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MYTHS AND MARVELS
OF ASTRONOMY

BY

RICHARD A. PROCTOR
'
AUTHOR OF "ROUGH WAYS MADE SMOOTH," " THE EXPANSE OF HEAVEN
"our PLACE AMONG INFINITIES," " PLEASANT WAYS IN SCIENCE
ETC. ETC.

NEW IMPRESSION

LONGMANS, GREEN, AND CO.


39 PATERNOSTER ROW, LONDON
NEW YORK AND BOMBAY
1903
^,
All rights reserved
@
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^r .^^^/ 7
PREFACE.
The chief charm of Astronomy, with many, does
not reside in the wonders revealed to us by the
science, but in the lore- and legends connected with
its history, the strange fancies with which in old
times it has been associated, the half-forgotten myths
to which it has given birth. In our own times also,

Astronomy has had its myths and fancies, its wild

inventions, and startling paradoxes. My object in

the present series of papers has been to collect to-

gether the most interesting of these old and new


Astronomical myths, associating with them, in due
proportion, some of the chief marvels which recent

Astronomy has revealed to us. To the former class


belong the subjects of the first four and the last five

essays of the present series, while the remaining


essays belong to the latter category.

Throughout I have endeavoured to avoid tech-


nical expressions on the one hand, and ambiguous

phraseology (sometimes resulting from the attempt


PREFACE.

to avoid technicality) on the other. I have, in fact,

sought to present my subjects as I should wish to


have matters outside the range of my special branch

of study presented for my own reading.

RICHARD A. PROCTOR.
CONTENTS.
I. Astrology

II. The Religion of the Great Pyramid


III. The Mystery of the Pyramids .

IV. Swedenborg's Visions of Other Worlds' . io6

V. Other Worlds and Other Universes .


135

VI. Suns in Flames . 160

VII. The Rings of Saturn ... .191

VIII. Comets as Portents . .... 212

IX. The Lunar Hoax 242

X. On some Astronomical Paradoxes . . . 268

XI. On some Astronomical Myths . . .


299

XII. The Origin of the Constellation-Figures ,


332
;

MYTHS AND MARVELS


OF

ASTRONOMY
L
ASTROLOGY.
Signs and planets, in aspects sextile, quartile, trine, conjoined, oi
opposite; houses of heaven, with their cusps, hours, and minutes
Almuten, Almochoden, Anahibazon, Catahibazon ; a thousand terms
of equal sound and significance. Guy Mannering.

. . . Come and see ! trust thine own eyes.


A fearful sign stands in the house of life.

An enemy : a fiend lurks close behind


The radiance of thy planet oh ! be warned ! Coleridge.

Astrology possesses a real interest even in these days.


It is true that no importance attaches now even to the dis-
cussion of the considerations which led to the rejection of
judicial astrology. None but' the most ignorant, and there-
fore superstitious, believe at present in divination of any
sort or kind whatsoever. Divination by the stars holds no
higher position than palmistry, fortune-telling by cards, or
the indications of the future which foolish persons find in
dreams, tea-dregs, salt-spilling, and other absurdities. But
there are two reasons which render the history of astrology
interesting. In the first place, faith in stellar influences
was once so widespread that astrological terminology came
e
2 MYTHS AND MARVELS Of ASTRONOMY.
form a part of ordinary language, insomuch that it is
to

impossible rightly to understand many passages of ancient


and mediaeval literature, or rightly to apprehend the force
of many allusions and expressions, unless the significance
of astrological teachings to the men of those times be
recognised. In the second place, it is interesting to

examine how the erroneous teachings of astrology were


gradually abandoned, to note the way in which various
orders of mind rejected these false doctrines or struggled
to retain them, and to perceive how, with a large proportion
of even the most civilised races, the superstitions of judicial
astrology were long retained, or are retained even to this
very day. The world has still to see some superstitions
destroyed which are as widely received as astrology ever
was, and which will probably retain their influence over
many minds long after the reasoning portion of the com-
munity have rejected them.
Even so far back as the time of Eudoxus the pretensions
of astrologers were rejected, as Cicero informs us (' De Div.'
ii. 42). And though the Romans were strangely supersti-
tious in such matters, Cicero reasons with excellent judg-
ment against the belief in astrology. Gassendi quotes the
argument drawn by Cicero against astrology, from the pre-
dictions of the Chaldseans that Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey
would die '
in a full old age, in their own houses, in peace
and whose deaths, nevertheless, were 'violent,
honour,'
immature, and tragical.' Cicero also used an argument
whose full force has only been recognised in modern times.
'
What contagion,' he asked, can reach us from the planets
'

whose distance is almost infinite?' It is singular that

Seneca, who was well acquainted with the uniform character


of the planetary motions, seems to have entertained no
doubt respecting their influence. Tacitus expresses some
doubts, but was on the whole inclined to believe in astrology.
ASTROLOGY. 3

'Certainly,' he says, the majority of mankind cannot be


'

weaned from the opinion that at the birth of each man his
future destiny is flxed; though some things may fall out
differently from the predictions, by the ignorance of those
who profess the art ; and thus the art is unjustly blamed,
confirmed as by noted examples in all ages."
it is

Probably, the doubt suggested by the different fortunes


and characters of men born at the same time must have

^ These reflections were suggested to Tacitus by the conduct of


Thrasyllus (chief astrologer of the Emperor Tiberius), when his skill
was tested by his imperial employer after a manner characteristic of
that agreeable monarch. The story runs thus (I follow Whewell's
version) Those who were brought
: ' to Tiberius on any important
matter, were admitted to an interview in an apartment situated on a
lofty cliff in the island of Caprese. They reached this place by a
narrow path, accompanied by a single freedman of great bodily
strength ; and on their return, if the emperor had conceived any
doubts of their trustworthiness, a single blow buried the secret and its

victim in the ocean below. After Thrasyllus had, in this retreat,


stated the results of his art as they concerned the emperor, Tiberius
asked him whether he had calculated how long he himself had to live.

The astrologer examined the aspect of the stars, and while he did this
showed hesitation, alarm, increasing terror, and at last declared thai
" The present hour was for him critical, perhaps fatal." Tiberius em-
braced him, and told him "he was right in supposing he had been in
danger, but that he should escape it," and made him henceforward his
confidential counsellor.' assuming the story to be true
It is evident,

(as seems sufficiently probable), that the emperor was no match for the
charlatan in craft. It was a natural thought on the former's part to
test the skill of his astrologer by laying for him a trap such as the story
indicates a thought so natural, indeed, that it probably occurred to
Thrasyllus himself long before Tiberius put the plan into practice.
Even if Thrasyllus had not been already on the watch for such a trick,
he would have been but a poor trickster himself if he had not detected
it the moment it was attempted, or failed to see the sole safe course

which was left open to him. Probably, with a man of the temper of
Tiberius, such a counter-trick as Galeotti's in Quentin Durward womM
have been unsafe.
4 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
occurred to msny before Cicero dwelt upon it. Pliny,
who followed Cicero in this, does not employ the argument
quite correctly, for he says that, ' in every hour, in every
part of the world, are bom lords and slaves, kings and
beggars.' But of course, according to astrological prin-
ciples, it would be necessary that two persons, whose

fortunes were to be alike, should be born, not only in the


same hour, but in the same place. The fortunes and
character of Jacob and Esau, however, should manifestly
have been similar, which was certainly not the case, if their
history has been correctly handed down to us. An astro-
loger of the time of Julias Caesar, named PublKis Nigidius
Figulus, used a singular argument against such reasoning.
When an opponent urged the different fortunes of men
bom nearly at the same instant, Nigidius asked him to
make two contiguous marks on a potter's wheel which was
revolving rapidly. When the wheel was stopped, the two
marks were found to be far apart Nigidius is said to have
received the name of Figulus (the potter), in remembrance
of the story ; but more probably he was a potter by trade,
and an astrologer only during those leisure hours which he
could devote to charlatanry. St Augustine, who relates
the story (which I borrow from Whewell's '
History of the
Inductive Sciences '), says, justly, that the argument of
Nigidius was as fragile as the ware made on the potter's
wheel.
The must have been all but universal in those
belief
days that of any person who was to hold an
at the birth

important place in the world's history the stars would either


be ominously conjoined, or else some blazing comet or new
star would make its appearance. For we know that some
such object having appeared, or some unusual conjunction
of planets having occurred, near enough to the time
of
Christ's birth to be associated in men's minds with that
:

ASTROLOGY. 5

event, it came eventually to be regarded as belonging to


his horoscope, and as actually indicating to the Wise Men
of the East (Chaldaean astrologers, doubtless) the future
greatness of the child then born. It is certain that that is
what the story of the Star in the East means as it stands.
Theologians differ as to its interpretation in points of
detail. Some think the phenomenon was meteoric, others
that a comet then made its appearance, others that a new
star shone out, and others that the account referred to a
conjunction of Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, which occurred
at about that time. As a matter of detail it may be men-
tioned, that none of these explanations in the slightest
degree corresponds with the account, for neither meteor,
nor comet, nor new star, nor conjoined planets, would go
before travellers from the east, to show them their way
to any place. Yet the ancients sometimes regarded comets
as guides. Whichever view we accept, it is abundantly
clear that an astrological significance was attached by the
narrator to the event. And not so very long ago, when
astrologers first began to see that their occupation was
passing from them, the Wise Men of the East were ap-
pealed to against the enemies of astrology,' very much as
1 The belief in the influence of the stars and the planets on the
fortunes of the new-bom child was still rife when Shakespeare made
Glendower boast
At my nativity
The front of heaven was full of fiery shapes
Of burning cressets ; know, that at my birth
The frame and huge foundation of the earth
Shook like a coward.

And Shakespeare showed himself dangerously tainted with freethought


in assigning (even to the fiery Hotspur) the reply :

So it would have done


At the same season, if your mother's cat
Had kittened, though yourself had ne'er been bom.
;

6 MYTHS AND MARVELS OP ASTRONOMY.


Moses was appealed to against Copernicus and Galileo, and
more recently to protect us against certain relationships
which Darwin, Wallace, and Huxley unkindly indicate for
the human race divine.
Although astronomers now reject altogether the doc-
trines of judicial astrology, it is impossible for the true
lover of that science to regard astrology altogether with
contempt Astronomy, indeed, owes much more to the
notions of believers in astrology than is commonly sup-
posed. Astrology bears the same relation to modem as-

tronomy that alchemy bears to modem chemistry. As it

is probable that nothing but the hope of gain, literally in

this case auri sacra fames, would have led to those laborious
researches of the alchemists which first taught men how to
analyse matter into its elementary constituents, and after-

wards to combine these constituents afresh into new forms,


so the belief that, by carefully studying the stars, men might
acquire the power of predicting future events, first directed
attention to the movements of the celestial bodies. Kepler's
saying, that astrology, though a fool, was the daughter of
a wise mother,' does not by any means present truly the
relationship between astrology and astronomy. Rather we
may say that astrology and alchemy, though foolish mothers,
In a similar vein Butler, in Hudibras ridiculed the folly of those who
believe in horoscopes and nativities :

As if the planet's fii-st aspect


The tender infant did infect
In soul and body, and instil

AJl future good and future ill

Which in their dark fatalities lurking.


At destined periods fall a-working,
And break out, like the hidden seeds
Of long diseases, into deeds,
lu friendships, enmities, and strife,

A-nd all th' emergencies of life.

' Preface to the Rudolphine Tables.


ASTROLOGY. ]

gave birth to those wise daughters, astronomy and chem-


istry. Even this way of speaking scarcely does justice to
the astrologers and alchemists of old times. Their views
appear foolish in the light of modern scientific knowledge,
but they were not foolish in relation to what was known
when they were entertained. Modern analysis goes far to
demonstrate the immutability, and, consequently, the non-
transmutability of the metals, though it is by no means so
certain as many suppose that the present position of the
metals in the list of elements is really correct Certainly a
chemist of our day would be thought very unwise who should
undertake a series of researches with the object of discover-
ing a mineral having such qualities as the alchemists
attributed to the philosopher's stone. But when as yet the
facts on which the science of chemistry is based were un-

known, there was nothing unreasonable in supposing that


such a mineral might exist, or the means of compounding
itbe discovered. Nay, many arguments from analogy
might be urged to show that the supposition was altogether
probable. In like manner, though the known facts of as-
tronomy oppose themselves irresistibly to any belief in
planetary influences upon the fates of men and nations, yet
before those facts were discovered it was not only not un-
reasonable, but was in fact, highly reasonable to believe in
such influences, or at least that the sun, and moon, and
stars moved in the heavens in such sort as to indicate what
would happen. If the wise men of old times rejected the
belief that '
the stars in their courses fought ' for or against

men, they yet could not very readily abandon the belief that
the stars were for signs in the heavens of what was to befall
mankind.
If we consider the reasoning now commonly thought
valid in favour of the doctrine that other orbs besides our
earth are inhabited, and compare it with the reasoning on
8 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
which judicial astrology was based, we shall not find much
to choose between the two, so far as logical weight is
concerned. Because the only member of the solar system
which we can examine closely is inhabited, astronomers
infer a certain degree of probability for the belief that the
other planets of the system are also inhabited And because
the only sun we know much about is the centre of a system
of planets, astronomers infer that probably the stars, those
other suns which people space, are also the centres of sys-
tems ; although no telescope which man can make would
show the members of a system like ours, attending on even
the nearest of all the stars. The astrologer had a similar
argument for his belief. The moon, as she circles around
the earth, exerts a manifest influence upon terrestrial

matter the tidal wave rising and sinking S3mchronously


with the movements of the moon, and other consequences
depending directly or indirectly upon her revolution around
the earth. The sun's influence is still more manifest ; and,
though it may have required the genius of a Herschel or
of a Stephenson to perceive that almost every form of
terrestrial energy is derived from the sun, yet it must have
been manifest from the very earliest times that the greater
hght which rules the day rules the seasons also, and, in
ruling them, provides the annual suppUes of vegetable food,
on which the very existence of men and animals depends.
If these two bodies, the sun and moon, are thus potent,

must it not be supposed, reasoned the astronomers of old,


that the other celestial bodies exert corresponding influ-
ences ? We
know, but they did not know, that the moon
rules the tides efiectually because she is near to us and that
the sun is second only to the moon in tidal influence
be-
cause of his enormous mass and attractive energy. We
know also that his position as fire, light, and life of the earth
and its inhabitants, is due directly to the tremendous heat
ASTROLOGY. 9

with which the whole of his mighty frame is instinct. Not


knowing this, the astronomers of old times had no sufficient
reason for distinguishing the sun and moon from the other
celestial bodies, so far at least as the general question of

celestial influences was concerned.


So far as particulars were concerned, it was not alto-

gether so clear to them as it is to us, that the influence of


the sun must be paramount in all respects save tidal action,
and that of the moon second only to the sun's in other
respects, and superior to his in tidal sway alone. Many
writers on the subject of life in other worlds are prepared

to show (as Brewster attempts to do, for example) that


Jupiter and Saturn are far nobler worlds than the earth,
because superior in this or that circumstance. So the
ancient astronomers, in their ignorance of the actual con-
ditions on which celestial influences depend, found abundant
by Saturn,
reasons for regarding the feeble influences exerted
Jupiter, and more potent
Mars, as really than those exerted

by the sun himself upon the earth. They reasoned, as

Milton afterwards made Raphael reason, that 'great or

bright infers not excellence,' that Saturn or Jupiter, though


'
in comparison so small, nor glist'ring ' to like degree, may
yet more plenty than the sun.'
'of solid good contain
Supposing the influence of a celestial body to depend on
the magnitude of its sphere, in the sense of the old astron-

omy (according to which each planet had its proper sphere,

around the earth as centre), then the influence of the sun


would be judged to be inferior to that of either Saturn,
Jupiter, or Mars; while the influences of Venus and
Mercury, though inferior to the influence of the sun, would
be held superior to that of the moon. For the ancients
still

measured the spheres of the seven planets of their system


by the periods of the apparent revolution of those bodies
around the celestial dome, and so set the sphere of the
lo MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
moon innermost, enclosed by the sphere of Mercury, around
which in turn was the sphere of Venus, next the sun's,
then, in order, those of Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. We
can readily understand how they might come to regard the

slow motions of the sphere of Saturn and Jupiter, taking


respectively some thirty and twelve years to complete a
revolution, as indicating power superior to the sun's, whose
sphere seemed to revolve once in a single year. Many
other considerations might have been urged, before the
Copernican theory was established, to show that, possibly,

some of the planets exert influences more effective than

those of the sun and moon.


It is, indeed, clear that the first real shock sustained by
astrology came from the arguments of Copernicus. So
long as the earth was regarded as the centre round which
all the celestial bodies move, it was hopeless to attempt to
shake men's faith in the influences of the stars. So far as I

know, there is not a single instance of a believer in the old


Ptolemaic system who rejected astrology absolutely. The
views of Bacon the last of any note who opposed the
system of Copernicus '
indicate the extreme limits to

'
It U commonly stated that Bacon opposed the Copernican theory
because he disliked Gilbert, who had advocated it. '
Bacon,' says one
of his editors, was too jealous of Gilbert to entertain one moment any
'

doctrine that he advanced.' But, apart from the incredible littleness


of mind which this explanation imputes to Bacon, it would also have
been an incredible piece of folly on Bacon's part to advocate an in-
ferior theory while a rival was left to support a better theory. Bacon
saw clearly enough that men were on their way to the discovery of the
true theory, and, so far as in him lay, he indicated how they should
proceed in order most readily to reach the truth. It must, then have

been from conviction, not out of mere contradiction, that Bacon de-
clared himself in favour of the Ptolemaic system. In fact, he speaks
of the diurnal motion of the earth as ' an opinion which we can demon-
be most false;' doubtless having in his thoughts some such
strate to
arguments as misled Tycho Brahe.
ASTROLOGY. ii

which a Ptolemaist could go in opposition to astrology.


It may be worth while to quote Bacon's opinion in this
place, because it indicates at once very accurately the posi-
tion held by believers
in astrology in his day, and the influence
which the belief in a central fixed earth could not fail to
exert on the minds of even the most philosophical reasoners.
' Astrology,' he begins, '
is so full of superstition that
scarce anything sound can be discovered in it ; though we
judge it should rather be purged than absolutely rejected.
Yet if any one shall pretend that this science is founded not
in reason and physical contemplations, but in the direct
experience and observation of past ages, and therefore not
to be examined by physical reasons, as the Chaldaeans
boasted, he may at the same time bring back divination,
auguries, soothsaying, and give in to all kinds of fables;
for these also were said to descend from long experience.
But we receive astrology as a part of physics, without
attributing more to it than reason and the evidence of
things allow, and strip it of its superstition and conceits.
Thus we banish that empty notion about the horary reign
of the planets, as if each resumed the throne thrice in
twenty-four hours, so as to leave three hours supernumerary;
and yet this fiction produced the division of the week, ' a
thing so ancient and so universally received. Thus hke-
wise we reject as an idle figment the doctrine of horoscopes,

and the distribution of the houses, though these are the


darUng inventions of astrology, which have kept revel, as it

were, in the heavens. And lastly, for the calculation of

1 To Bacon's theological contemporaries this must have seemed a


dreadful heresy, and possibly in our own days the assertion would be
judged scarcely less harshly, seeing that the obsei-vance of the (so-

called) Sabbath depends directly upon the belief in quite


another origin

of the week. Yet there can be little question that the week really had
its origin in astrological formulse.
12 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
nativities, fortunes, good or bad hours of business, and the
like fatalities, they are mere levities, that have little in
them
of certainty and solidity, and may be plainly confuted by
physical reasons. But here we judge it proper to lay

down some rules for the examination of astrological matters,


in order to retain what is useful therein, and reject what is
insignificant. Thus, i. Let the greater revolutions be re-
tained, but the lesser, of horoscopes and houses, be rejected
the former being like ordnance which shoot to a great
distance, whilst the other are but like small bows, that do
no execution. 2. The celestial operations affect not all

kinds of bodies, but only the more sensible, as humours,


air, and spirits. 3. All the celestial operations rather
extend to masses of things than to individuals, though they
may obliquely reach some individuals also which are more
sensible than the rest, as a pestilent constitution of the air
affects those bodies which are least able to resist it. 4. All
the celestial operations produce not their effects instan-
taneously, and in a narrow compass, but exert them in large
portions of time and space. Thus predictions as to the
temperature of a year may hold good, but not with regard
to single days. 5. There is no fatal necessity in the
stars ; and this the more prudent astrologers have con-
stantly allowed. 6. We will add one thing more, which, if
amended and improved, might make for astrology viz.
that we are certain the celestial bodies have other influences
besides heat and light, but these influences act not other-
wise than by the foregoing rules, though they lie so deep in
physics as to require a fuller explanation. that, upon
So
the whole, we must register as needed, ' an astrology written
' In Bohn's edition the word defective is here xised, entirely
'
'

changing the meaning of the sentence. Bacon registers an Astrologia


Sana amongst the things needed for the advancement of learning
whereas lie is made to say that such an astrology mut be rer .stored a?
defective.
;

ASTROLOGY. ,3

in conformity with these principles, under the name of


Astrologia Sana.'
He then proceeds to show what this just astrology
should comprehend
as, i,the doctrine of the commixture

of rays ; 2, the effect of nearest approaches and farthest


removes of planets to and from the point overhead (the
planets, like the sun, having their summer and winter);

3, the effects of distance, '


with a proper enquiry into what
the vigour of the planets may perform of itself, and what
through their nearness to us; for,' he adds, but unfor-
tunately without assigning any reason for the statement, '
a
planet is more brisk when most remote, but more commu-
nicative when nearest ;' 4, the other accidents of the
planet's motions as they pursue

Their wand'ring course, now high, now low, then hid,


Progressive, retrograde, or standing still

5, all that can be discovered of the general nature of the


planets and fixed stars, considered in their own essence
and activity ; 6, lastly, let this just astrology, he says,
'
contain, from tradition, the particular natures and altera-

tions of the planets and fixed stars ; for ' (here is a reason
indeed) '
as these are delivered with general consent,
they are not lightly to be rejected, unless they directly
contradict physical considerations. Of such observations
let a just and according to these
astrology be formed ;

alone should schemes of the heavens be made and inter-


preted'
The astrology thus regarded by Bacon as sane and just

did not differ, as to its primary object, from the false

systems which now seem to us so absurd. '


Let this

astrology be used with greater confidence in prediction,'


says Bacon, '
but more cautiously in election, and in both
cases with due moderation. Thus predictions may be
14 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
made of comets, and allkinds of meteors, inundations,
droughts, heats, frosts, earthquakes, fiery eruptions, winds,
great rains, the seasons of the year, plagues, epidemic
diseases, plenty, famine, wars, seditions, sects, transmigra-
tions of people, and all commotions, or great innovations
of things, natural and civil. Predictions may possibly be

made more particular, though with less certainty, if, when


the general tendencies of the times are found, a good
philosophical or political judgment applies them to such
things as are most liable to accidents of this kind. For
example, fiom a foreknowledge of the seasons of any year,
they might be apprehended more destructive to olives than
grapes, more hurtful in distempers of the lungs than the
liver, more pernicious to the inhabitants of hills than

valleys, and, for want of provisions, to monks than courtiers,

eta Or if any one, from a knowledge of the influence


which the celestial bodies have upon the spirits of mankind,
should find it would affect the people more than their

rulers, learned and inquisitive men more than the military,


etc. For there are innumerable things of
this kind that
knowledge gained from the stars
require not only a general
which are the agents, but also a particular one of the
passive subjects.Nor are elections to be wholly rejected,
though not so much to be trusted as predictions ; for we
find in planting, sowing, and grafting, observations of the
moon are not absolutely trifling, and there axe many
particulars of this kind.But elections are more to be
curbed by our rules than predictions; and this must
always be remembered, that election only holds in such
cases where the virtue of the heavenly bodies, and the
action of the inferior bodies also,
is not transient, as in the

examples just mentioned ; for the increases of the moon


and planets are not sudden things. But punctuality of
time should here be absolutely rejected. And perhaps
;

ASTROLOGY. 15

there are more of these instances to be found in civil


matters than some would imagine.'
The method of inquiry suggested by Bacon as proper
for determining the just rules of the astrology he advocated,
was, as might be expected, chiefly inductive. There are,
said he, ' but four ways of arriving at this science, viz. i,
by future experiments ; 2, past experiments ; 3, traditions
4, physical reasons.' But he was not very hopeful as to
the progress of the suggested researches. It is vain, he
said, to think at present of future experiments, because
many ages are required to procure a competent stock of
them. As for the past, it is true that past experiments are
within our reach, ' but it is a work of labour and much time
to procure them. Thus astrologers may, if they please,
draw from real history all greater accidents, as inundations,
plagues, wars, seditions, deaths of kings, etc., as also the
positions of the celestial bodies, not according to fictitious
horoscopes, but the above-mentioned rules of their revolu-
tions, or such as they really were at the time, and, when
the event conspires, erect a probable rule of prediction.'
Traditions would require to be carefully sifted, and those
thrown out which manifestly clashed with physical consi-
derations, leaving those in full force which complied with
such considerations. Lastly, the physical reasons wor-
thiest of being enquired into are those, said Bacon, '
which
search into the universal appetites and passions of matter,
and the simple genuine motions of the heavenly bodies.'
It is evident there was much which, in our time at least,

would be regarded as wild and fanciful in the sound and '

just astrology' advocated by Bacon. Yet, in passing, it

may be noticed that even in our own time we have seen


similar ideas promulgated, not by common astrologers and
fortune-tellers (who, indeed, know nothing about such
matters), but by persons supposed to be well-informed in
i6 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
matters scientific. In a roundabout way. a new astrology

has been suggested, which is not at all unlike Bacon's


'
astrologia sana,' though not based, as he proposed that
astrology should be, on experiment, or tradition, or

physical reasons. It has been suggested, first, that the

seasons of our earth are aSected by the condition of the sun


in the matter of spots, and very striking evidence has been
collected to show that this must be the case. For instance,
it has been found that years when the sun has been free

from spots have been warmer than the average ; and it has
also been found that such years have been cooler than the
average a double -shotted argument wholly irresistible,
:

especially when it is also found that when the sun has many
spots the weather has sometimes been exceptionally warm
and sometimes exceptionally cold. If this be not considered
suflScient, then note that in one country or continent or
hemisphere the weather, when the sun is most spotted (or

least, as the case may be), may be singularly hot, while in


another country, continent, or hemisphere, the weather may
be as singularly cold. So with wind and calm, rain and
drought, and so forth. Always, whether the sun is very
much spotted or quite free from spots, something unusual
in the way of weather must be going on somewhere, demon-
strating in the most significant way the influence of sun-
spots or the want of sun-spots on the weather. It is true

that captious minds might say that this method of reason-


ing proved too much in many ways, as, for example, thus
always, whether the sun is very much spotted or quite
free from spots, some remarkable event, as a battle, massacre,
domestic tragedy on a largescale, or the like, may be going

on, demonstrating in themost significant way the influence


of sun-spots or the want of sun-spots on the passions of

men which sounds absurd. But the answer is twofold.
Fii-st, such reasoning is captious, and secondly, it is not
ASTROLOGY. 17

certain that sun-spots, or the want of them, may not in-

fluence human passions ; it may be worth while to enquire


into this possible solar influence as well as the other, which
can be done by crossing the hands of the new fortune-
tellers with a sufficient amount of that precious metal which

astrologers have in all ages dedicated to the sun.


That the new system of divination is not solely solar,
but partly planetary also, is seen when we remember that
the sun-spots wax and wane in periods of time which are
manifestly referable to the planetary motions. Thus, the
great solar spot-period lasts about eleven years, the suc-
cessive spotless epochs being separated on the average by
about that time ; and so nearly does this period agree with
the period of the planet Jupiter's revolution around the sun,
that during eight consecutive spot-periods the spots were
most numerous when Jupiter was farthest from the sun, and
it is only by going back to the periods preceding these
eight that we find a time when the reverse happened, the
spots beingmost numerous when Jupiter was nearest to the
sun. So with various other periods which the ingenuity
of Messrs. De la Rue and Balfour Stewart has detected,
and which, under the closest scrutiny, exhibit almost exact
agreement for many successive periods, preceded and
followed by almost exact disagreement. Here, again, the
captiousmay argue that such alternate agreements and dis-
agreements may be noted in every case where two periods
are not very unequal, whether there be any connection
between them or not; but much more frequently when there
is no connection : and that the only evidence really proving
a connection between planetary motions and the solar spots

would be constant agreement between solar spot periods and


particular planetary periods. But the progress of science,
and especially the possible erection of a new observatory
for finding out (' for a consideration ') how sun-spots affect
c

l8 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
the weather, etc., ought not to be interfered with by cap-
tious reasoners in this objectionable manner. Nor need
any other answer be given them. Seeing, then, that sun-
spots manifestly affect the weather and the seasons, while
the planets rule the sun-spots, it is clear that the planets
really rule the seasons. And again, seeing that the planets
rule the seasons, while the seasons largely affect the well-
being of men and nations (to say nothing of animals), it

follows that the planets influence the fates of men and


nations (and animals). Quod erat demonstrandum.
Let us return, however, to the more reasonable astro-
logy of the ancients, and enquire into some of the traditions
which Bacon considered worthy of attention in framing the
precepts of a sound and just astrology.
It was natural that the astrologers of old should regard
the planetary influences as depending in the main on the
position of the celestial bodies on the sky above the person
or place whose fortunes were in question. Thus two men
at thesame moment in Rome and in Persia would by no
means have the same horoscope cast for their nativities, so
that their fortunes, according to the principles of judicial
astrology, would be quite different In fact it might happen
that two men, born at the same instant of time, would have

all the principal circumstances of their lives contrasted


planets riding high in the heavens of one being below the
horizon of the other, and vice versA.
The celestial sphere placed as at the moment of the
native's birth was divided into twelve parts by great circles
supposed to pass through the point overhead, and its oppo-
site, the point vertically beneath the feet. These twelve
divisions were called '
houses.'
Their position is illustrated in the following figure, taken
from Raphael's Astrology.
ASTROLOGY. 19

j;2oon='Da2.

LONG JOURNEYS

Of.

HONOR

Particular Significations

OF THE

Twelve Celestial Hotises,

According to various

Astrological Authors.

INHERITANCES

^/VT KINDRED
4>" and
'

SHORT JOURNEYS
Jiilianiei)t.

The first, called the Ascendant House, was the portion


rising above the horizon at the east. It was regarded as

the House of Life, the planets located therein at the

moment of birth having most potent influence on the life

and destiny of the Such planets were said to rule


native.

the ascendant, being in the ascending house and it is from ;

this usage that our familiar expression that such and such
an influence is 'in the ascendant' is derived. The next

house was the House of Riches, and was one-third of the


way from the below the horizon towards the place of
east
the sun at midnight. The third was the House of Kindred,
20 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
short journeys, letters, messages, etc. It was two-thirds of
the way towards the place of the midnight sun. The fourth
was the House of Parents, and was the house which the
sun reached at midnight The fifth was the House of
Children and also of all sorts of amusements,
Women,
theatres, banquets,and merry-making. The sixth was the
House of Sickness. The seventh was the House of Love
and Marriage. These three houses (the fifth, sixth, and
seventh) followed in order from the fourth, so as to corre-
spond to the part of the sun's path below the horizon,
between his place at midnight and his place when descend-
ing in the west. The seventh, opposite to the first, was the
Descendant The eighth house was the first house above
the horizon, l3dng to the west, and was the House of Death.
The ninth house, next to the mid-heaven on the west, was
the House of Religion, science, learning, books, and long
voyages. The tenth, which was in the mid -heaven, or
region occupied by the sun at midday, was the House of
Honour, denoting credit, renown, profession or calling,

irade, preferment, etc. The eleventh house, next to the


mid-heaven on the east, was the House of Friends. Lastly,
the twelfth house was the House of Enemies.
The houses were not all of equal potency. The angular
houses, which are the first, the fourth, the seventh, and the
tenth lying east, north, west, and south were first in
power, whether for good or evil. The second, fifth, eighth,
and eleventh houses were called siiccedents, as following the
angular houses, and next to them in power. The remain-
ing four houses viz. the third, sixth, ninth, and twelfth
houses were called cadents, and were regarded as weakest
in influence. The houses were regarded as alternately
masculine and feminine: the first, third, fifth, etc., being
masculine ; while the second, fourth, sixth, etc. were
feminine.
; . "

ASTROLOGY. 21

The more particular significations of the various houses


are shown in the accompanying figure from the same book.

Knights, esquires, children of ene^ Prophets, prayers, visions, omens, divine


mies, sickness of servants, ene- worship, wife's brethren, fathers of -/ p"
mies and wives of offspringr.
,
f Bi // JudEres,
t i ,
servants, children's children, /^
\ Jdeath
\\
^, -- ,
of fathers, lournevs /^u
bre-
sickness of fathers, ene-
.
a-
_ ^, .,
'
of brethren, enemies
'^
. / r
thren of enemies, mies of brethren.
servants, fathers of ene- \ friends of friends,
of enemies.
mies, children of servants, \^ enemies of
,/ sicknessof sons, deathof brethren, \
kings. a "^ / n' 9 ^
friends of enemies, enemies of friends.

CELESTIAL DIAGRAM
representing at one view the
various symbolical significations
of the

Twelve Heavenly Houses;


according to ancient manuscript
writers of the twelfth century
and not to be found in Authors.
S. 3 (2 3 p " [,

Dead men's goods, castles, treasure hid,


V

^\t^s ^^^ o^ ^'^ corpse in y/


>
,3 %%'
l-g j< > ^ '

Sects tiie grave,

dreams, \raoney of brethren, cliildren Z ^.^^^^


_ . 'churches, fathersV'fP"""""'"' ='=''-/ dice, brethre... ,

g S /of private enemies, sonsV^^s "f f"=ids, km^'s/t^^j^^^^ f^j^^^.^ money>


' ^ ^offriends, sickness of kings, \^'=""''''"="^?/sickness of private enemies,
enemies of the religious, trade of \ serv-/ enemies of friends, death of kings,
' "^

'servants, private enemies of fathers. \^"*^' friends of enemies, enemies of servants.

It will be easily understood how these houses were


dealt with in erecting a scheme of nativity. The position

of the planets at the moment of the native's birth, in the


several houses, determined his fortunes with regard to the
various matters associated with these houses. Thus planets

of good influence in the native's ascendant, or first house,

signified generally a prosperous life ; but if at the same

epoch a planet of malefic influence was in the seventh house,


then the native, though on the whole prosperous, would be
unfortunate in marriage. A good planet in the tenth house
22 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
signified good fortune and honour in office or business,
and
generally a prosperous career as distinguished firom a happy
life ; but evil planets in the ninth house would suggest
to

the native caution in undertaking long voyages, or entering


upon religious or scientific controversies.
Similar considerations applied to questions relating to
horary astronomy, in which the position of the planets in
the various houses at some epoch guided the astrologer's

opinion as to the fortune of that hour, either in the life of

a man or the career of a State. In such inquiries, however,


not only the position of the planets, etc., at the time had
to be considered, but also the original horoscope of the
person, or the special planets and signs associated with
particular States. Thus if Jupiter, the most fortunate of
all the planets, was in the ascendant, or in the House of
Honour, at the time of the native's birth, and at some
epoch this planet was ill-aspected or afflicted by other
planets potent for evil in the native's horoscope, then that
epoch would be a threatening one in the native's career.

The Gemini was regarded by astrologers as espe-


sign
cially associated with the fortunes of London, and accord-

ingly they tell us that the great fire of London, the plague,
the building of London Bridge, and other events interesting
to London, all occurred when this sign was in the ascend-
ant, or when special planets were in this sign.^

1 The astrologers were exceedingly ingenious in showing that their

art had given warning of the great plague and fire of London. Thus,
the star which marks the Bull's northern horn
and which is described

by Ptolemy as like Mars was, they say, exactly in that part of the
sign Gemini which is the ascendant of London, in 1666. Lilly, how-
ever, for whom they claim the credit of predicting the year of this
calamity, laid no claim himself to that achievement ; nay, specially
denied that he knew when the fire was to happen The story is rather
curious. In 1 65 1 Lilly had published his Monarchy or no Monarchy,
which contained a number of curious hieroglyphics. Amongst these
ASTROLOGY. 23

The signs of the zodiac in the various houses were in


the first place to be noted, because not only had these signs
special powers in special houses, but the effects of the

were two (see frontispiece) which appeared to portend plague and fire

respectively. The hieroglyphic of the plague represents three dead


bodies wrapped in death-clothes, and for these bodies two coffins lie

ready and two graves are being dug ; whence it was to be inferred
that the number of deaths would exceed the supply of coffins and
graves. The hieroglyphic of the fire represents several persons, gentle-
folk on one side and commonfolk on the other, emptying water vessels
on a furious fire into which two children are falling headlong. The
occurrence of the plague in 1665 attracted no special notice to Lilly's
supposed prediction of that event, though probably many talked of the
coincidence as remarkable. But when in 1 666 the great fire occurred,
the House of Commons summoned Lilly to attend the committee ap-
pointed to enquire Into the cause of the fire. '
At two of the clock on
Friday, the 25th of October 1666,' he attended in the Speaker's
chamber, answer such questions as should then and there be asked
to
him.' Sir Robert Brooke spoke to this effect Mr. Lilly, this com-
:
'

mittee thought fit to summon you to appear before them this day, to

know you can say anything as to the cause of the late fire, or whether
if

there might be any design therein. You are called the rather hither,
because in a book of yours long since printed, you hinted some such
thing by one of your hieroglyphics.' Unto which he replied May it :
'

please your honours, after the beheading of the late king, considering
that in the three subsequent years the Parliament acted nothing which
concerned the settlement of the nation's peace, and seeing the gener-
alityof the people dissatisfied, the citizens of London discontented,
and the soldiery prone to mutiny, I was desirous, according to the
best knowledge God had given me, to make enquiry by the art I
studied, what might, from that time, happen unto the Parliament and
nation in general. At last, having satisfied myself as well as I could,
and perfected my judgment therein, I thought it most convenient to
signify my intentions and conceptions thereof in forms, shapes, types,
hierogljrphics, etc., without any commentary, that so my judgment
might be concealed from the vulgar, and made manifest only unto the
wise ; I herein imitating the examples of many wise philosophers who
had done the like. Having found, sir, that the great city of London
should be sadly afflicted with a great plague, and not long after with
24 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
planets in particular houses varied according to the signs
in which the planets were situated. If we were to follow
the description given by the astrologers themselves, not much
insight would be thrown upon the meaning of the zodiacal
signs. For instance, astrologers say that Aries is a vernal,
dry, fiery, mascuUne, cardinal, equinoctial, diurnal,mov-
able, commanding, eastern, choleric, violent, and quadru-
pedalian sign. We may, however, infer generally from their

accounts the influences which they assigned to the zodiacal


signs.

Aries is the house and joy of Mars, signifies a dry con-


stitution, long face and neck, thick shoulders, swarthy
complexion, and a hasty, passionate temper. It governs the
head and face, and all diseases relating thereto. It reigns

over England, France, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark,


Lesser Poland, Syria, Naples, Capua, Verona, etc. It is a
masculine sign, and is regarded as fortunate.
Taurus gives to the native born under his auspices a
stout athletic frame, broad bull-like forehead, dark curly
hair, short neck,and so forth, and a dull apathetic temper,
exceedingly cruel and malicious if once aroused. It governs
the neck and throat, and reigns over Ireland, Great Poland,
part of Russia, Holland, Persia, Asia Minor, the Archi-
pelago, Mantua, Leipsic, etc. It is a feminine sign, and
unfortunate.
Gemini is the house of Mercury. The native of Gemini

an exorbitant fire, I framed these two hieroglyphics, as represented in


the book, which in effect have proved very tme.' Did you foresee the '

year?' said one. ' I did not,' said Lilly ;


' nor was desirous ; of that
I made no scrutiny. Now,
whether there was any design of burn-
sir,

ing the city, or any employed to that purpose, I must deal ingenuously
with you, that since the fire I have taken much pains in the search
thereof, but cannot or could not give myself the least satisfaction
therein. I conclude that it was the finger of God only but what in-
;

struments He used thereunto 1 am ignorant.'


ASTROLOGY. 25

will have a sanguine complexion and tall, straight figure,


dark eyes quick and piercing, brown ways, and hair, active
willbe of exceedingly ingenious intellect. It governs the
arms and shoulders, and rules over the south-west parts of
England, America, Flanders, Lombardy, Sardinia, Armenia,
Lower Egypt, London, Versailles, Brabant, etc It is a
masculine sign, and fortunate.
Cancer is the house of the Moon and exaltation of
Jupiter, and its native will be of fair but pale complexion,
round face, grey or mild blue eyes, weak voice, the upper
part of the body large, slender arms, small feet, and an
effeminate constitution. It governs the breast and the
stomach, and reigns over Scotland, Holland, Zealand,
Burgundy, Africa, Algiers, Tunis, Tripoli, Constantinople,
New York, etc. It is a feminine sign, and unfortunate.
The native bom under Leo will be of large body, broad
shoulders, austere countenance, with dark eyes and tawny
hair, strong voice, and leonine and
character, resolute
ambitious, but generous, free, and courteous. Leo governs
the heart and back, and reigns over Italy, Bohemia, France,
Sicily, Rome, Bristol, Bath, Taunton, Philadelphia, etc. It

is a masculine sign, and fortunate.


Virgo is the joy of Mercury. Its natives are 0/

moderate stature, seldom handsome, slender but compact,


thrifty and ingenious. It governs the abdomen, and reigns
over Turkey both in Europe and Asia, Greece, and Mesopo-
tamia, Crete, Jerusalem, Paris, Lyons, etc It is a feminine
sign, and generally unfortunate.
Libra is the house of Venus. The natives of Libra are
talland well made, elegant in person, round-faced and
ruddy, but plain-featured and 'inclined to eruptions that
disfigure the face when old ; they' (the natives) ' are of

sweet disposition, just and upright in dealing.' It governs


the lumbar regions, and reigns over Austria, Alsace, Savoy,
'

26 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


Portugal, Livonia, India, Ethiopia, Lisbon, Vienna, Frank-
fort, Antwerp, Charleston, etc. It is a masculine sign, and
fortunate.
Scorpio is, hke Aries, the house of Mars, ' and also his

joy.' Its natives are strong, corpulent, and robust, with


large bones, 'dark curly hair and eyes' (presumably the
eyes dark only, not curly), middle stature, dusky com-
plexion, active bodies ; they are usually reserved in speech.
It governs the region of the groin, and reigns over Judsea,
Mauritania, Catalonia, Norway, West Silesia, Upper Batavia,
Barbar)% Morocco, Valentia, Messina, etc. It is feminine,

and unfortunate. (It would appear likely, by the way, that


astrology was a purely masculine science.)
Sagittarius is the house and joy of Jupiter. Its natives

are well formed and tall, ruddy, handsome, and jovial, with

fine clear eyes, chestnut hair, and oval fleshy face. They
are '
generally jolly fellows at either bin or board,' active,
intrepid, generous, and obliging. It governs the legs and
thighs,^ and reigns over Arabia Felix, Spain, Hungary,
Moravia, Liguria, Narbonne, Cologne, Avignon, eta It is

masculine, and of course fortunate.


Capricorn is the house of Saturn and exaltation of Mars.
This sign gives to its natives a dry constitution and slender
make, with a long thin visage, thin beard (a generally goaty
aspect, in fact), dark hair, long neck, narrow chin, and weak
knees. It and hams, and
governs, nevertheless, the knees
reigns over India, Macedonia, Thrace and Greece, Mexico,
Saxony, Wilna, Mecklenburgh, Brandenburg, and Oxford.
It is feminine, and unfortunate.

1 Sir Toby "Belch and Andrew Aguecheek were evidently not


Sir
well taught in astrology. we set about some revels ? says the
' Shall' '

latter. 'What shall we do else?' says Toby; 'were we not bom


under Taurus ?' ' Taurus, that's sides and heart,' says sapient Andrew.
' No, sir,' responds Toby, ' it's legs and thighs. Let me see thee
caper.

ASTROLOGY. 27

Aquarius also is the house of Saturn. Its natives are


robust, steady, strong, healthy, and of middle stature ; deli-
cate complexion, clear but not pale, sandy hair, hazel eyes,
and generally an honest disposition. It governs the legs
and ankles, and reigns over Arabia, Petraea, Tartary,
Russia, Denmark, Lower Sweden, Westphalia, Hamburg,
and Bremen. It is masculine, and fortunate.
Pisces is the house of Jupiter and exaltation of Venus.
Its natives are short, pale, thick-set, and round-shouldered
(like fish), its character phlegmatic and effeminate. It
governs the feet and toes, and reigns over Portugal, Spain,
Egypt, Normandy, Galicia, Ratisbon, Calabria, etc. It is
feminine, and therefore, naturally, unfortunate.
Let us next consider the influences assigned to the
various planets and constellations.
Though we can understand that in old times the planets
and stars were regarded as exercising very potent influences
upon the fates of men and nations,' it is by no means easy
to understand how astrologers came to assign to each
planet its special influence. That is, it is not easy to
understand how they could have been led to such a result
by actual reasoning, still less by any process of observa-

1 'This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we


are sick in fortune (often the surfeit of our own behavioiu:), we make
guilty of our disasters the sun, moon, and stars as if we were villains
:

on necessity ; by heavenly compulsion ; knaves, thieves, and


fools
treacherous by spherical predominance ; drunkards, liars, and adul-
terers, by inforced obedience of planetary influence and all that we ;

are, evil, by a divine thrusting on.' Shakespeare (King Lear).


' There are few things more remarkable, or to reasoning minds

more inexplicable, than the readiness with which men undertook in old
times, and even now undertake, to interpret omens and assign pro-
phetic significance to casual events. One can understand that foolish
persons should believe in omens, and act upon the ideas suggested by
;

28 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.


the possibility of determining the special influences of the
stars ; and we should have expected to find some scientific

process adopted for the purpose. Yet, so far as can be


judged, the influences assigned to the planets depended on
entirely fanciful considerations. In some cases we seem
almost to see the line along which the fancies of the old
astrologers led them, just as in some cases we can perceive
how mythological superstitions (which are closely related to
astrological ideas) had their origin ; though it is not quite
clear whether the planets were first regarded as deities with
special qualities, and these qualities afterwards assigned to

the planetary influences, or whether the planetary influences


were first assigned, and came eventually to be regarded
as the qualities of the deities associated with the several
planets.

It is easy, for instance, to understand why astrologers


should have regarded the sun as the emblem of kingly
power and dignity, and equally easy to understand why, to

the sun regarded as a deity, corresponding qualities should


have been ascribed ; but it is not easy to determine whether

their superstitions. The difEculty is to comprehend how these super-

stitions came into existence. For instance, who first conceived the
idea that a particular line in the palm of the hand is the line of life
and what can possibly have suggested so absurd a notion ? To whom
did the thought first present itself that the pips on playing-cards are
significant of future events ; and why did he think so ? How did the
' grounds ' of a teacup come to acquire that deep significance which
they now possess for Mrs. Gamp and Betsy Prig ? If the believers in
ihese absurdities be asked why they believe, they answer readily enough
either that they themselves or their friends have known remarkable
fulfilments of theominous indications of cards or tea-dregs, which must
of necessity be the case where millions of forecasts are daily made by
these instructive methods. But the persons who first invented those
means of divination can have had no such reasons. They must have
possessed imaginations of singular liveliness and not wanting in in.
genuity. It is a pity that we know so little of them.
ASTROLOGY. 29

the astrological or the Sabaistic superstitions were the


earlier. And manner of the moon and planets.
in like
There seems to me no sufficient evidence in favour of
Whewell's opinion, that in whatever manner the sun, moon,
'

and planets came to be identified with gods and goddesses,


the characters ascribed to these gods and goddesses,
regulated the virtues and powers of the stars which bear
their names.' As he himself very justly remarks, 'We do
not possess any of the speculations of the earlier astrologers;
and we cannot, therefore, be certain that the notions which
operated in men's minds when the art had its birth, agreed
with the views on which it was afterwards defended.' He
does not say why he infers that, though at later periods

supported by physical analogies, it was originally suggested

by mythological beliefs. Quite as probably mythological


beliefs were suggested by astrological notions. Some of
these beliefs, indeed, seem manifestly to have been so
suggested ; as the character of the deity Mercury, from the
rapid motions of the planet Mercury, and the difficulty of
detecting it ; the character of Mars from the blood-red hue
of the planet when close to the horizon, and so forth.
Let us examine, however, the characteristics ascribed by
astrologers to various planets.
It is unfortunate for astrology that, despite the asserted
careful comparison of events with the planetary positions
preceding and indicating them, nothing was ever observed
which seemed to suggest the possibility that there may be
an unknown planet ruling very strongly the affairs of men.
Astrologers tell us now that Uranus is a very potent

planet ;
yet the old astrologers seem to have got on very
well without him. By the way, one of the moderns, the
grave Raphael, gives a very singular account of the discov-
ery of Uranus, in a book published sixteen years before
Neptune was discovered by just such a process as Raphael
30 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
imagined in the case of Uranus. He says that Drs. Halley,
Bradley, and others, having frequently observed that Saturn
was disturbed in his motion by some force exerted from
beyond his orbit, and being unable to account for the
disturbance on the known principles of gravitation, pursued
their enquiry into the matter, '
till at length the discovery

of this hitherto unknown planet covered their labours with


success, and has enabled us to enlarge our present solar
system to nearly double its bounds.' Of course there is

not a word of truth in thisUranus having been discovered


;

by accident long after Halley and Bradley were in the


grave. But the account suggests what might have been,
and curiously anticipates the actual manner in which
Neptune was discovered.
Astrologers agree in attributing evil effects to Uranus.
But the evil he does is always peculiarly strange, unaccount-

able,and totally unexpected. He causes the native bom


under his influence to be of a very eccentric and original
disposition, romantic, unsettled, addicted to change, a seeker
after novelty ; though, if the moon or Mercury have a good
aspect towards Uranus, the native will be profound in the
secret sciences, magnanimous, and lofty of mind. But let

all beware of marriage when Uranus is in the seventh house,


or afflicting the moon. And in general, let the fair sex re-
member that Uranus is peculiarly hostile to them, and very
evil in love.

Saturn is the Greater Infortune of the old system ot


astrology,and is by universal experience acknowledged to
be the most potent, evil, and malignant of all the planets.
Those born under him are of dark and pale complexion,
with small, black, leering eyes, thick lips and nostrils, large
ears, thin face, lowering looks, cloudy aspect, and seemingly

melancholy and- unhappy; and though they have broad


shoulders, they have but short lips and a thin beard
;

ASTROLOGY. 31

They character austere and reserved, covetous,


are in
laborious, and revengeful; constant in friendship, and
good haters. The most remarkable and certain character-
istic of the Saturnine man is that, as an old author observes
'
he will never look thee in the If they have to love
face.' '

any one, these Saturnines,' says another old author, they '

love most constantly; and if they hate, they hate to the


death.' The persons signified symbolically by Saturn are
grandparents, and other old persons, day labourers, paupers,
beggars, clowns, husbandmen of the meaner sort, and
especially undertakers, sextons, and gravediggers. Chaucer
thus presents the chief effects which Saturn produces in the
fortunes of men and nations Saturn himself being the
speaker :

, quod Satume
. . .

My wide for to turne,


cours, that hath so
Hath more power than wot any man.
Min is the drenching in the sea so wan,
Min is the prison in the derke cote,
Min is the strangel and hanging by the throte,
The murmure and the cherles rebelling,
The groyning, and the prive empoysoning,
I do vengaunce and pleine correction,
While I dwell in the signe of the leon
Min is the mine of the high halles,
The falling of the toures and of the walles
Upon the minour or the carpenter :

I slew Sampson in shaking the piler.

Min ben also the maladies colde,


The derke tresons, and the castes olde :

My loking is the fader of pestilence.

Jupiter, on the contrary, though Saturn's next neighbour


in the solar system, produces effects of an entirely contrary
kind. He is, in fact, the most propitious of all the planets,
and the native born under his influence has every reason
to be jovial in fact as he is by nature. Such a native will
32 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
be tall and fair, handsome and erect, robust, ruddy, and
altogether a good-looking person, whether male or female.
The native will also be religious, or at least a good moral

honest man, unless Jupiter be afflicted by the aspects of


Saturn, Mars, or Uranus ; in which case he may still be a
jolly fellow, no man's enemy but his own only he will
probably be his own enemy to a very considerable extent,
squandering his means and ruining his health by gluttony
and intoxication. The persons represented by Jupiter
(when he is not afflicted) are judges, counsellors, church
dignitaries, from cardinals to curates, scholars, chancellors,
barristers, and the highest orders of lawyers, woollendrapers

(possibly there may be some astral significance in the wool-


sack), and clothiers. When Jupiter is afflicted, however,
he denotes quacks and mountebanks, knaves, cheats, and
drunkards. The influence of the planet on the fortunes
is nearly always good. Astrologers, who to a man reverence
dignities, consider Great Britain fortunate in that the lady
whom, with customary effusion, they term '
Our Most
Gracious Queen,' was bom when Jupiter was riding high in
the heavens near his culmination, this position promising a
most fortunate and happy career. The time has passed
when the fortunes of this country were likely to be affected
by such things ; but we may hope, for the lady's own sake,
that this prediction has been fulfilled. Astrologers assert
thesame about the Duke of Wellington, assigning midnight,
May I, 1769, as the hour of his birth. There is some
doubt both as to the date and place of the great soldier's
birth ; but the astrologer finds in the facts of his life the
means of removing all such doubts.'

1 Wellington lived too long for the astrologers, his death within
the year having unfortunately been predicted by them many times
during the last fifteen years of his life. Some were more
astrologers
cautious, however. I have before me his horoscope, carefully calcu-
ASTROLOGY. 33

Next in order comes Mars, inferior only in malefic in-


fluence to Saturn, and called by the old astrologers the
Lesser Infortune. The native born under the influence of
Mars is usually of fierce countenance, his eyes sparkling.
or sharp and darting, his complexion fiery or yellowish, and
his countenance scarred or furrowed. His hair is reddish
or sandy, unless Mars chances to be in a watery sign, in
which case the hair will be flaxen ; or in an earthly sign, in
which case the hair will be chestnut. The Martialist is

broad-shouldered, steady, and strong, but short,' and often


bony and lean. In character the Martialist is fiery and

lated, secundum artem, by Raphael in 1828, with results '


sufSciently
evincing the surprising verity and singular accuracy of astrological
calculations, when founded on the correct time of birth, and mathe-
matically calculated. I have chosen,' he proceeds, '
the nativity of
this illustrious native, in preference to others, as the subject is now
living, and, consequently, all possibility of making up any fictitious

horoscope is at once set aside ; thus affording me a most powerful


shield against the insidious representations of the envious and ignorant
traducer of my sublime science.' By some strange oversight, however,
Raphael omits to mention anything respecting the future fortunes of
Wellington, showing only how wonderfully Wellington's past career
had corresponded with his horoscope.
^ 'I have still observed,' says an old author, 'that your right
Martialist doth seldom exceed in height, or be at the most above
a yard or a yard and a half in height' (which is surely stint measure).

'It hath been always thus,' said that right Martialist Sir Geoffrey
Hudson to Julian Peveril ; ' and in the history of all ages, the clean

tight dapper little fellow hath proved an overmatch for his burly
antagonist. I need only instance, out of Holy Writ, the celebrated
downfall of Goliath and of another lubbard, who had more fingers in

his hand, and more inches to his stature, than ought to belong to an
honest man, and by a nephew of good King David
who was slain ;

and of many others whom


do not remember ; nevertheless, they
I

were all Philistines of gigantic stature. In the classics, also, you have
Tydeus, and other tight compact heroes, whose diminutive bodies were
the abode of large minds.'
;

34 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


choleric, naturally delighting in war and contention, but
generous and magnanimous. This when Mars is well
aspected ; should the planet be evil aspected, then will the
native be treacherous, thievish, treasonable, cruel, and
wicked. The persons signified by Mars are generals,
soldiers, sailors (if he is in a watery sign), surgeons, chemists,
doctors, armourers, barbers, curriers, smiths, carpenters,
bricklayers, sculptors, and tailors. When afflicted
cooks,
with Mercury or the moon, he denotes thieves, hangmen,
and 'all cut throat people.' In fact, except the ploughboy,
who belongs to Saturn, all the members of the old septet,
'tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, apothecary, ploughboy, thief,'

are favourites with Mars. The planet's influence is not


quite so evil as Saturn's, nor are the effects
produced by it
so long-lasting. The influence of Saturn,' says an astrol-
'

oger, may be compared to a lingering but fatal consump-


'

tion ; that of Mars to a burning fever.' He is the cause


of anger, quarrels, violence, war, and slaughter.
The sun comes next ; for it must be remembered that,
according to the old system of astronomy, the sun was a
planet Persons born imder the sun as the planet ruling
their ascendant, would be more apt to be aware of the fact
than Saturnine, Jovial, Martial, or any other folk, because
the hour of birth, it remembered, at once determines
whether the native is a solar subject or not. The solar
native has generally a round face (like pictures of the sun
in old books ot astronomy), with a short chin ; his com-
plexion somewhat sanguine ; curling sandy hair and a
white tender skin. As to character, he is bold and resolute
desirous of praise, of slow speech and composed judgment
outwardly decorous, but privately not altogether virtuous.
The sun, in fact, according to astrologers, is the natural
significator of respectability ; for which I can discover no

reason, unless it be that the sun travelling always in the


;

ASTROLOGY. 35

ecliptic has no latitude, and so solar folk are allowed none.


When the sun is ill aspected, the native is both proud and
mean, tyrannical and sycophantic, exceedingly unamiable,
and generally disliked because of his arrogance and igno-
rant pomposity. The persons signified by the sun are em-
perors, kings, and titled folk generally, goldsmiths, jewellers,

and coiners. When '


afflicted,' the sun signifies pretenders
either to power or knowledge. The sun's influence is not
in itself either good or most powerful for good
evil, but is

when he is favourably aspected, and for evil when he is


afflicted by other planets.
Venus, the next in order, bore the same relation to the

Greater Fortune Jupiter which Mars bore to Saturn the


Greater Ill-fortune. She was the Lesser Fortune, and her
influence was in nearly all respects benevolent. The
persons born under the influence of this planet are hand-
some, with beautiful sparkling hazel or black eyes (but
another authority assigns the subject of Venus, 'a full eye,

usually we say goggle-eyed,' by which we do not usually


imply beauty), ruddy lips, the upper lip short, soft smooth
hair, dimples in the cheek and chin, an amorous look and

TheOne
a sweet voice. old astrologer puts the matter thus
pleasantly : ' native of Venus hath,' quoth he, '
a love-
dimple in the chin, a lovely mouth, cherry and a right lips,

merry countenance.' In character the native of Venus is


merry 'to a fault,' but of temper engaging, sweet and
cheerful, unless she be ill aspected, when her native is apt

to be too fond of pleasure and amusement. That her


influence is good is shown (in the opinion of Raphael,
writing in 1828) by the character of George IV., 'our
present beloved monarch and most gracious majesty, who
was bom was in the ascendant
just as this benevolent star '

'for it is well Europe what a refined and


known to all

polished genuis, and what exquisite taste, the King of


;

36 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


England possesses, which therefore may be cited as a most
illustrious proof of the celestial science ; a proof likewise
which is palpably demonstrable, even to the most casual
observer, since the time of his nativity is taken from the
public journals of the period, and cannot be gainsaid.'
'
This illustrious and regal horoscope is replete with wonder-
ful verifications of planetary influence, and England cannot

but prosper while she is blessed with the mild and benefi-
cent sway of this potent monarch.' Strengthened in faith
by this convincing proof of the celestial science, we proceed
to notice that Venus is the protectrice of musicians, em-
broiderers, perfumers, classic modellers, and all who work

_ in elegant attire or administer to the luxuries of the great


but when she is aflSicted, she represents '
the lower orders
of the votaries of voluptuousness.'
Mercury is considered by astrologers '
a cold, dry,
melancholy star.' The Mercurial is neither dark nor fair, but
between both, long-faced, with high forehead and thin sharp
nose, thin beard (many times none at all), slender of body,
'

and with small weak eyes ;' long slender hands and fingers
are especial marks of Mercury,' says Raphael
'
In character
the Mercurial is busy and prattling. But when well affect-

ed. Mercury gives his subjects a strong, vigorous, active


mind, searching and exhaustive, a retentive memory, a
natural thirst for knowledge.^ The persons signified by
Mercury are astrologers, philosophers, mathematicians, poli-
ticians, merchants, travellers, teachers, poets, artficers, men
of science, and all ingenious, clever men. When he is

ill affected, however, he represents pettifoggers, cunning


vile persons, thieves, messengers, footmen, and servants, etc
The moon comes last in planetary sequence, as nearest

^ It is likely that Swedenborg in his youth studied astrology, for in


his visions the Mercurial folk have this desire of knowledge as their
distinguishing characteristic.
;
ASTROLOGY. 37

to the earth. She is regarded by astrologers as a cold,


moist, watery, phlegmatic planet, variable to an extreme,
and, like the sun, partaking of good or evil according as
she is aspected favourably or the reverse. Her natives are
of good stature, and pale, moon-faced, with grey eyes,
fair,

short arms, thick hands and feet, smooth, corpulent and


phlegmatic body. When she is in watery signs, the native
has freckles on the face, or, says Lilly, '
he or she is blub-
cheeked, not a handsome body, but a muddling creature.'
Unless the moon is very well aspected, she ever signfies an
ordinary vulgar person. She signifies sailors (not as Mars
does, the fighting-men of war-ships, but nautical folk
generally) and all persons connected with water or any kind
of fluid ; also all who are engaged in inferior and common
offices.

We may note, in passing, that to each planet a special


metal is assigned, as also particular colours. Chaucer, in
the Chanones Yemannes' Tale, succinctly describes the dis-

tribution of the metals among the planets :

Sol gold is, and Luna silver we threpe


Mars iren, Mercurie silver we clepe :

Satumus led, and Jupiter is tin,


And Venus coper, by my [the Chanones Yemannes'] faderkin.

The colours are thus assigned :


to Saturn, black ; to

Jupiter, mixed red and green ; to Mars, red ; to the sun,


yellow or yellow-purple ; to Venus, white or purple ; to
Mercury, azure blue ; to the moon, a colour spotted with
white and other mixed colours.

Again, the planets were supposed to have special in-

fluence on the seven, ages of human life. The infant,


'
mewling and puking in the nurse's arms,' was very appro-
priately dedicated to the moist moon ; the whining school-
boy (did schoolboys whine in the days of good Queen
;;

38 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


Bess?) was less appropriately assigned to Mercury, the
patron of those who eagerly seek after knowledge :
then

very naturally, the lover sighing like furnace was regarded


as the special favourite of Venus. Thus far the order has
been that of the seven planets of the ancient astrology, in
supposed distance. Now, however, we have to pass over
the sun, finding Mars the patron of mid life, appropriately

(in this respect) presiding over the soldier full of strange

oaths, and so forth the justice in fair round belly with


;
'

good capon lined is watched over by the respectable sun


'

maturer age by Jupiter and, lastly, old age by Saturn.


;

Colours were also assigned to the twelve zodiacal signs


to Aries, white and red ; to Taurus, white and lemon ;

to Gemini, white and red (the same as Aries) ; to Cancer,


green or russet ; to Leo, red or green ; to Virgo, black
speckled with blue ; to Libra, black, or dark crimson, or
tawny colour ; to Scorpio, brown ; to Sagittarius, yellow,
or a green sanguine (this is as strange a colour as the gris
rouge of Molicre's L Atari) ; Capricorn, black or russet, or
a swarthy brown ; to Aquarius, a sky- coloured blue ; to

Pisces, white gUstening colour (like a fish just taken out of


the water).
The chief fixed stars had various influences assigned to
them by astrologers. These influences were mostly asso-
ciated with the imaginary figures of the constellations.
Thus the bright star in the head of Aries, called by some
the Ram's Horn, was regarded as dangerous and evil,
denoting bodily hurts. The star Menkar in the Whale's
jaw denoted sickness, disgrace, and ill-fortune, with danger
from great beasts. Betelgeux, the bright star on Orion's
right shoulder, denoted martial honours or wealth Bella- ;

trix, the star on Orion's left shoulder, denoted military or


civic honours Rigel, on Orion's left
; foot, denoted honours
Sirius and Procyon, the greater and lesser Dog Stars, both
ASTROLOGY. 39

implied wealth and renown. Star clusters seem to have


portended loss of sight ; at least we learn that the Pleiades
were '
eminent stars,' but denoting accidents to the sight oi
blindness, while the cluster Prsesepe or the Beehive in like
manner threatened blindness. The cluster in Perseus does
not seem to have been noticed by astrologers. The variable
star Algol or Caput Medusae, which marks the head of

Gorgon, was accounted the most unfortunate, violent, and


'

dangerous star in the heavens.' It is tolerably clear that


the variable character of this star had been detected long
before Montanari (to whom the discovery is commonly

attributed) noticed the phenomenon. The name Algol is


only a variation of Al-ghul, the monster or demon, and it

cannot be doubted that the demoniac, Gorgonian character


assigned to this star was suggested by its ominous change,
as though it were the eye of some fierce monster slowly
winking amid the gloom of space. The two stars called
the Aselli, which lie on either side of the cluster Prsesepe,
'
are said ' (by astrologers) '
to be of a burning nature, and
to give great indications of a violent death, or of violent
and severe accidents by fire. The star called Cor Hydrae,
or the serpent's heart, denotes trouble through women (said
I not rightly that Astrology was a masculine science ?) ; the
Lion's heart, Regulus, implied glory and riches; Deneb,
the Lion's tail, misfortune and disgrace. The southern scale
of Libra meant bad fortune, while the northern was emi-
nently fortunate.
Astrology was divided into three distinct branches the
doctrine of nativities, horary astrology, and state astrology.

The first assigned the rules for determining the general for-

tunes of the native, by drawing up his scheme of nativity

or casting his horoscope. It took into account the positions'


of the various planets, signs, stars, etc., at the time of the
native's birth; and as the astrologer could calculate the
to MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
movements of the planets thereafter, he could find when
those planets which were observed by the horoscope to be
most closely associated with the native's fortunes would be
well aspected or the reverse. Thus the auspicious and un-
lucky epochs of the native's life could be predetermined.
The some degree of power to rule
astrologer also claimed
the planets, not by modifying their movements in any way,
but by indicating in what way the ill effects portended by
their positions could be prevented. The Arabian and
Persian astrologers, having less skill than the followers of
Ptolemy, made use of a different method of determining
the fortunes of men, not calculating the positions of the
planets for many years following the birth of the native,
but assigning to every day after his birth a whole year of
his life and for every two hours' motion of the moon one
month. Thus the positions of the stars and planets,
twenty-one days after the birth of the native, would indi-

cate the events corresponding to the time when he would


have completed his twenty-first year. There was another
system called the Placidian, in which the eflFects of the
positions of the planets were judged with sole reference to
the motion of the earth upon her axis. It is satisfactory
to find astrologers in harmony amongst each other as to
these various methods, which one would have supposed
likely to give entirely different results. Each of them,'
'

says a modern astrologer, 'is not only correct and ap-


proved by long-tried practice, but may be said to defy the
least contradiction from those who will but take the pains
to examine them (and no one else should deliver an opinion
upon the subject). Although each of the above methods
are different, yet they by no means contradict each other,
but each leads to true results, and in many instances they
each lead to the foreknowledge of the same event in
which respect they may be compared to the ascent of a
ASTROLOGY. 41

mountain by different paths, where, although some paths


are longer and more difficult than others, they notwithstand-
ing all lead to the same object' All which, though plausible
in tone labours under the disadvantage of being untrue.
Ptolemy is careful to point out, in his celebrated work
the ' Tetrabiblos,' that, of all events whatsoever which take
place after birth, the most essential is the continuance of
life. 'It is useless,' he says, 'to consider what events
might happen to the native in later years if his hfe does
not extend, for instance, beyond one year. So that the
enquiry into the duration of Hfe takes precedence of all

others.' In order to deal properly with this question, it is

necessary to determine what planet shall be regarded as


the Hyleg, Apheta, or Lord of Life, for the native.Next
the Anareta, or Destroyer of Life,must be ascertained.
The Anaretic planets are, by nature, Saturn, Mars, and
Uranus, though moon, and Mercury may be
the sun,
endowed with the same fatal influence, if suitably afflicted.
The various ways in which the Hyleg, or Giver of Life,
may be afflicted by the Anareta, correspond to the various
modes of death. But astrologers have always been singu-
larly careful, in casting horoscopes, to avoid definite refer-
ence to the native's death. There are but few cases where
the actual day of death is said to have been assigned.
One is related in Clarendon's '
History of the Rebellion.'
He tells us that William Earl of Pembroke died at the age
of fifty, on the day upon which his tutor Sandford had pre-
dicted his decease. Burton, the author of the '
Anatomy of

Melancholy,' having cast his own horoscope, and ascer-


tained that he was to die on January 23, 1639, is said to

have committed suicide in order that the accuracy of his


calculations might not be called in question. A similar

story is related of Cardan by Dr. Young (Sidrophel


Vapulans), on the authority of Gassendi, who, however.
42 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
says only that either Cardan starved himself, or, being con
fident in took the predicted day for a fatal one,
his art,

and by his fears made it so. Gassendi adds that while


Cardan pretended to describe the fates of his children in his
voluminous commentaries, he all the while never suspected,
from the rules of his great art, that his dearest son would
be condemned in the flower of his youth to be beheaded on
a scaffold, by an executioner of justice, for destroying his
own wife by poison.
Horary astrology relates to particular questions, and is

a comparatively easy branch of the science. The art of

casting nativities requires many years of study ; but


horary astrology 'may be well understood,' says Lilly, 'in
less than a quarter of a year.' '
If a proposition of any

nature,' he adds, '


be made to any individual, about the
result of which he is anxious, and therefore uncertain
whether to accede to it or not, let him but note the hour
and minute when it was first made, and erect a figure of

the heavens, and his doubts will be instantly resolved. He


may thus in five minutes learn whether the affair will sue-

ceed or not : and consequently whether it is prudent to


accept the offer made or not. If he examine the sign on
the first house of the figure, the planet therein, or the
planet ruling the sign, will exactly describe the party making
the offer, both in person and character, and this may at once
convince the enquirer for truth of the reality of the principles
of the science. Moreover, the descending sign, etc, will
describe his own person and character a farther proof of
the truth of the science.'
There is one feature of horary astrology which is prob-
ably almost as ancient as any portion of the science, yet
which remains even to the present day, and will probably
remain for many years to come. I refer to the influence

which the planets were supposed to exert on the successive


'

ASTROLOGY. 43

hours of every day


a belief from which the division of
time into weeks of seven days unquestionably had its

origin though we may concede that the subdivision of


the lunar month into four equal parts was also considered
in selecting this convenient measure of time. Every hour
had its planet. Now dividing twenty-four by seven, we get
three and three over ; whence, each day containing twenty-
four hours, it follows that in each day the complete series
of seven planets was run through three times, and three
planets of the next series were used. The order of the
planets was that of their distances, as indicated above.
Saturn came first, then Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus,
Mercury, and the Moon. Beginning with Saturn, as ruling
the first hour of Saturn's day (Saturday), we get through
the above series three times, and have for the last three

hours of the day, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. Thus the


next hour, the first hour of the next day, belongs to the
sun Sunday follows Saturday. We again run three times
through and the three remaining hours are
the series,

governed by the sun, Venus, and Mercury, giving the


moon as the first planet for the next day. Monday thus
follows Sunday. The last three hours of Monday are ruled
by the moon, Saturn, and Jupiter ; leaving Mars to govern

the next day Martis dies, Mardi, Tuesday or Tuisco's day.


Proceeding in the same way, we get Mercury for the next
day, Mercurii dies, Mercredi, Wednesday or Woden's day ;

Jupiter for the next day, Jovis dies, Jeudi, Thursday or


Thor's day ; Venus for the next day, Veneris dies, Vendredi,
Friday or Freya's day ; and so we come to Saturday again.

1 It is singular that, when there is this perfectly simple explanation

of the origin of the nomenclature of the days of the week, an explana-


tion given by ancient historians and generally received, Whewell should
have stated that ' various accounts are given, all the methods proceed-
ing upon certain arbitrary arithmetical processes connected in some way
44 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
The period of seven days, which had its origin in, and
derived its nomenclature from astrological ideas, shows by-
its wide prevalence how widely astrological superstitions
were once spread among the nations. As Whewell remarks
(though, for reasons which will readily be understood he
was by no means anxious to dwell upon the true origin oi
the Sabbatical week), '
the usage is found over all the Easf;
it existed among the Arabians, Ass3rrians, and Egyptians.
The same week is found in India, among the Brahmins ; it

has there also its days marked by the names of the


heavenly bodies ; and it has been ascertained that the same
day has, in that country, the name corresponding with its

designation in other nations. . . . The period has gone on


without interruption or irregularity from the earliest re-

corded times to our own days, traversing the extent of

with astrological views.' Speaking of the arrangement of the planets in

the order of their supposed distances, and of the order in which the
planets appear in the days of the week, he says, '
It would be difficult
to determine with certainty why the former order was adopted, and
how and why the latter was derived from it ' But, in reality, there is

no difficulty about either point. The former arrangement corresponded


precisely with the periodic times of the seven planets of the old
Egyptian system (unquestionably far more ancient than the system
adopted by the Greeks), while the latter springs directly from the
former. Assign to the hours of the day, successively, the seven planets
in the former order, continuing the sequence witliout interruption day
and in the course of seven days each one of the planets will
after day,
first hour of a day, in the order,
have ruled the Saturn, the sun, the
moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus. What arbitrary arithmeti-
cal process there is in this it would be difficult to conceive. Arithmetic
does not rule the method at all. Nor has any other method ever been
suggested though this method has been presented in several ways,
;

some arithmetical and some geometrical. We need then have no


difficulty in understanding what seems so preplexing to Whewell, the

universality, namely, of the notions which have produced this result,'


'

for the notions were not fantastic, but such as naturally sprang from
the ideas on which astrology itself depends.
ASTROLOGY. 45

ages and the revolutions of empires the names of ancient


;

deities, which were associated with the stars, were replaced


by those of the objects of the worship of our Teutonic
ancestors, according to their views of the correspondence
of the two mythologies ; and the Quakers, in rejecting
these names of days, have cast aside the most ancient exist
ing relic of astrological as well as idolatrous superstition.
Not only do the names remain, but some of the obser
vances connected with the old astrological systems re-

main even to this day. As ceremonies derived from Pagan


worship are still continued, though modified in form, and
with a different interpretation, in Christian and especially
Roman Catholic observances, so among the Jews and
among Christians the rites and ceremonies of the old
Egyptian and Chaldean astrology are still continued, though
no longer interpreted as of yore. The great Jewish Law-
giver and those who follow him seem, for example, to have
recognised the value of regular periods of rest (whether
really required by man or become a necessity through long
habit), but to have been somewhat in doubt how best to
continue the practice without sanctioning the superstitions
with which it had been connected. At any rate two dif-

ferent and inconsistent interpretations were given in the

earlier and later codes of law. But whether the Jews


accepted the Sabbath because they believed that an All-
powerful Being, having created the world in six days,
required and took and was refreshed ') on the seventh,
rest ('

as stated in Exodus (xx. 11 and xxxi. 17), or whether they

did so in remembrance of their departure from Egypt, as


stated in Deuteronomy (v. 15), there can be no question
that among the Egyptians the Sabbath or Saturn's day was
a day of rest because of the malignant nature of the power-
ful planet-deitywho presided over that day. Nor can it be
seriously doubted that the Jews descended from the old
46 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
Chaldeans, among whom (as appears from stone inscriptions
recently discovered) the very word Sabbath was in use for

a seventh day of rest connected with astrological observ-


ances, were familiar with the practice even before their
sojourn in Egypt. They had then probably regarded it as a
eschewed like those idolatrous
superstitious practice to be
observances which had caused Terah to remove with Abra-
ham and Lot from Ur of the Chaldees. At any rate, we
find no mention of the seventh day of rest as a religious
observance until after the Exodus. It was not their only

religious observance having in reality an astrological origin.

Indeed, if we examine the Jewish sacrificial system as de-


1 The by the Astronomer- Royal on this subject
following remarks
seem to me just, They accord with what I had said
in the main.
earlier in my essay on Saturn and the Sabbath of the Jews {' Our Place

among Infinities,' nth essay). The importance which Moses attached


'

to it [the hebdomadal rest] is evident ; and, with all reverence, I


recognise to the utmost degree the justice of his views. No direction
was given for religious ceremonial ' (he seems to have overlooked
Numbers xxviii. 9, and cognate passages), '
but it was probably seen
that the health given to the mind by a rest from ordinary cares, and
by the opportunity of meditation, could not fail to have a most beneficial
religious effect. But, to give sanction to this precept, the authority of

at least a myth was requisite. I believe it was simply for this reason
that the myth of the six days of creation was preserved. It is expressly

cited in the first commandments, as the solemn


delivery of the
authority (Exodus xxxi. 17) for the command. It is remarkable that

at the second mention of the commandment (Deuteronomy v.) no


reference is made to the creation ; perhaps, after the complete estab-
lishment of Jehovistic ideas in the minds of the Israelites, they had
nearly lost the recollection of the Elohistic account, and it was not
thought desirable to refer to it' (Aiiy, ' On the Early Hebrew Scriptures,'
p. 17). must be regarded as a singular instance of the persistency
It

of myths, if this view be con-ect, that a myth which had become ob-
solete for the Jews between the time of Moses and that of the writer
(whoever he may have been) who produced the so-called Mosaic book of
Deuteronoijiy, should thereafter have been revived, and have come to be
regarded by the Jews themselves and by Christians as the Word of God.
ASTROLOGY. 47

scribed in Numbers xxviii. and elsewhere, we shall find


throughout a tacit reference to the motions or influences of
the celestial bodies. There was the morning and evening
sacrifice guided by the movements of the sun ; the Sabbath
offering, determined by the predominance of Saturn ; the
offering of the new moon, depending on the motions of the
moon ; and lastly, the Paschal sacrifice, depending on the
combined movements of the sun and moon made, in fact,
during the lunation following the sun's ascending passage
of the equator at the sign of Aries.
Let us return, however, after this somewhat long digres-
sion, to astrological matters.

Horary astrology is manifestly much better fitted than


the casting of nativities for filling the pocket of the astro-
loger himself; because only one nativity can be cast, but
any number of horary questions, can be asked. It is on
account of their skill in horary astrology that the Zadkiels
of our own time have occasionally found their way into

the twelfth house, or House of Enemies. Even Lilly

himself, not devoting, it would seem, five minutes to


inquire into the probable success of the affair, was indicted
in 1655 by a half-witted young woman, because he had
given judgment respecting stolen goods, receiving two
shillings and sixpence, contrary to an Act made under

and provided by the wise and virtuous King James, First


of England and Sixth of Scotland.
State astrology relates to the destinies of kingdoms,
thrones, empires, and may be regarded as a branch of
horary science relating to subjects (and rulers) of more than
ordinary importance.
In former ages all persons likely to occupy an import-
ant position in the history of the world had their horo
scopes erected ; but in these degenerate days neither the
casting of nativities nor the art of ruling the planets
;

48 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.


flourishes as it should do. Our Zadkiels and Raphaels
publish, indeed, the horoscopes of kings and emperors,
princes and princesses, and so forth; but their fate is as

that of Benedict (according to Beatrice) men ' wonder they


be talking, for nobody marks them.'
will still Even those
whose horoscopes have been erected show no proper respect
for the predictionsmade in their behalf. Thus the Prince
of Wales being bom when Sagittarius was in the ascendant
should have been, according to Zadkiel, a tall man, with

oval face, ruddy complexion, somewhat dusky, and so forth


but I understand he has by no means followed these direc-
tions as to his appearance. The sun, being well aspected,
prognosticated honours a most remarkable and unlooked-
for circumstance, strangely fulfilled by the event ; but then
being in Cancer, in sextile with Mars, the Prince of Wales
was to be partial to maritime affairs and attain naval glory,
whereas as a field-marshal he can only win military glory.

(I would not be understood to say that he is not quite as


competent to lead our fleets as our battalions into action.)

The House of Wealth was occupied by Jupiter, aspected by


Saturn, which betokened great wealth through inheritance
a prognostication, says Professor Miller, which is not
unlikely to come true. The House of Marriage was
unsettled by the conflicting influences of Venus, Mars, and
Saturn ; but the first predominating, the Prince, after some
trouble in his matrimonial speculations, was to marry a
Princess of high birth, and one not undeserving of his
kindest and most affectionate attention, probably in 1862.
As to the date, an almanack informs me that the Prince
married a Danish Princess in March 1863, which looks like
a most culpable neglect of the predictions of our national
astrologer. Again, in May 1870, when Saturn was sta-

tionary in the ascending degree, the Prince ought to have


been injured by a horse, and also to have received a blow
ASTROLOGY. 49

on the left side of the head, near the ear ; but reprehensibly
omitted both these ceremonies. A predisposition to fever
and epileptic attacks was indicated by the condition of the
House of Sickness. The newspapers described, a few
years since, a serious attack of fever ; but as most persons
have some experience of the kind, the fulfilment of the pre-
diction can hardly be regarded as very wonderful. Epileptic
attacks, which, as less common, might have saved the credit
of the astrologers, have not visited 'this royal native.'
The position of Saturn in Capricorn betokened loss or
disaster in one or other of the places ruled over by Capri-
corn ^which, as we have seen, are India, Macedonia, Thrace,
Greece, Mexico, Saxony, Wilna, Mecklenburgh, Branden-
burgh, and Oxford. Professor Miller expresses the hope
that Oxford was the place indicated, and the disaster nothing
more serious than some slight scrape with the authorities

of Christchurch. But princes never get into scrapes with


college dons. Probably some one or other of the '
hair-

breadth 'scapes ' chronicled by the reporters of his travels


in India was the event indicated by the ominous position
of Saturn in Capricorn.
A remarkable list of characteristics were derived by
Zadkiel from the positions of the various planets and signs
in the twelve houses of the ' Some, of course,
royal native.'
were indicated in more ways than one, which will explain
the parenthetical notes in the following alphabetical table

which Professor Miller has been at the pains to draw up


from Zadkiel's predictions. The prince was to be acute, '

affectionate, amiable, amorous, austere, avaricious, bene-


ficent, benevolent, brave, brilhant, calculated for govern-

ment' (a quality which may be understood two ways),


'candid, careful of his person, careless, compassionate,

courteous (twice over), delighting in eloquence, discreet,


envious, fond of glory, fond of learning, fond of music, fond

50 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


of poetry, fond of sports, fond of the arts and sciences, frank,
fall of expedients, generous (three times), gracious, honour-

able, hostile to crime, impervious, ingenious, inoffensive,


joyous, just (twice), laborious, liberal, lofty, magnanimous,
modest, noble, not easy to be understood (!), parsimonious,
pious (twice), profound in opinion, prone to regret his acts,

prudent, rash, religious, reverent, self-confident, sincere,

singular in mode of thinking, strong, temperate, unreserved,


unsteady, valuable in friendship, variable, versatile^ violent,
volatile, wily, and worthy.' Zadkiel concludes thus :

'
The square of Saturn to the moon
add to the gloomy will

side of the picture, and give a tinge of melancholy at times


to the native's character, and also a disposition to look at
the dark side of things, and lead him to despondency ; nor
wiU he be at all of a sanguine character, but cool and cal-
culating, though occasionally rash. Yet, all things con-
sidered, though firm and sometimes positive in opinion,
this royal native, if he live to mount the throne, will sway
the sceptre of these realms in moderation and justice, and
be a pious and benevolent man, and a merciful sovereign.'
Fortunately, the time has long since passed when swaying
the sceptre of these realmshad any but a figurative mean-
ing, or when Englishmen who obeyed their country's laws

depended on the mercy of any man, or when even bad


citizens were judged by princes. But -ne still prefer that
princes should be well-mannered gentlemen, and therefore
it is sincerely to be hoped that Zadkiel's prediction, so far
as it relates to piety and benevolence, may be fulfilled,
should this '
royal native ' live to mount the throne. As
for mercy, it is a goodly quality even in these days and in

this country ; for if the law no longer tolerates cruelty to

men, even on the' part of princes, who once had prescribed


rights in that direction, there are still some cruel, nay
brutal sports in which '
royal natives ' might sometimes be
ASTROLOGY. 51

tempted to take part. Wherefore let us hope that, even in


regard to mercy, the predictions of astrologers respecting
this '
royal native '
may be fulfilled.

Passing however, from trivialities, let us consider the


lessonswhich the history of astrology teaches us respecting
the human mind, its powers and weaknesses. It has been
wellremarked by Whewell that for many ages mysticism '

forms was a leading character both of the


in its various

common mind and the speculations of the most intelligent


and profound reasoners.' Thus mysticism was the opposite
of that habit of thought which science requires, 'namely,
employed to connect well-ascertained
clear ideas, distinctly

facts inasmuch as the ideas in which it dealt were vague


;

and unstable, and the temper in which they were contem-


plated was an urgent and aspiring enthusiasm, which could
not submit to a calm conference with experience upon even
terms.' We have seen what has been the history of one
particular form of the mysticism of ancient and mediaeval
ages. If we had followed the history of alchemy, magic,
and other forms of mysticism, we should have seen similar
results. True science has gradually dispossessed science
falsely so called, until now none but the weaker minds hold

by the tenets formerly almost universally adopted. In mere


numbers, believers in the ancient superstitions may be
by no means insignificant ; but they no longer have any
influence. Ithas become a matter of shame to pay any
attention to what those few say or do who not merely hold
but proclaim the ancient faith in these matters. We can
also see why this has been. In old times enthusiasm
usurped the place of reason in these cases ; but opinions
so formed and so retained could not maintain their ground in

the presence of reasoning and experience. So soon as in-


telligent and thoughtful men perceived that facts were
against the supposed mysterious influences of the stars, the
52 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
asserted powers of magicians, the pretended knowledge of

alchemists, the false teachings of magic, alchemy, and


astrology, were rejected. The lesson thus learned respect-
ing erroneous doctrines which were once widely prevalent
has its application in our time, when, though the influence
of those teachings has passed away, other doctrines formerly
associated with them still hold their ground. Men in old
times, influenced by erroneous teachings, wasted their time
and energies in idle questionings of the stars, vain efforts
to find Arcana of mysterious power, and to acquire magical
authority over the elements. Is it altogether clear that in
these our times men are not hampered, prevented to some
degree from doing all the good they, might do in the short
them, by doctrines of another kind ? Is
life-time allotted to

there in our day no undue sacrifice of present good in idle


questionings? is there no tendency to trust in a vain
fetishism to prevent or remove evils which energy could
avert or remedy? The time will come, in my behef,
when the waste of those energies which in these days are
devoted (not merely with the sanction, but the high
approval, of some of the best among us) to idle aims, will
be deplored as regretfully but, alas, as idly as the wasted
speculations and labours of those whom Whewell has justly
called the most intelligent and profound reasoners of the
'
stationary age' of science. The words with which Whewell
closes his. chapter on the Mysticism of the Middle Ages'
'

have their application to the mysticism of the nineteenth


century :
Experience
' collects her stores in vain, or ceases
to collect them, when she can only pour them into the
flimsy folds of the lap of Mysticism, who is, in truth, so
much absorbed in looking for the treasures which are to
fall from the skies, that she heeds little how scantily she
obtains, or how loosely she holds, such riches as she might
find beside her.'
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 53

II.

TBE RELIGION- OF THE GREAT PYRAMID.

During the last few years a new sect has appeared which,
though as yet small in numbers, is full of zeal and fervour.
The faith professed by this sect may be called the religion
of the Great Pyramid, the chief article of their creed being
the doctrine that that remarkable edifice was built for the

purpose of reveaUng in the fulness of time, now nearly


accomplished certain noteworthy truths to the human 1

race. The founder of the pyramid religion is described by


one of the present leaders of the sect as '
the late worthy
John Taylor, of Gower Street, London ;' but hitherto the
chief prophets of the new faith have been in this country
Professor Smyth, Astronomer Royal for Scotland, and in

France the Abbd Moigno. I propose to examine here


some of the facts most confidently urged by pyramidalists
in support of their views.
But it will be well first to indicate briefly the doctrines

of the new faith. They may be thus presented :

The great pyramid was erected, it would seem, under


the instructions of a certain Semitic king, probably no
other than Melchizedek. By supernatural means, the
architects were instructed to place the pyramid in latitude

30 north ; to select for its figure that of a square pyramid,

carefully oriented ; to employ for their unit of length the

sacred cubit corresponding to the 20,000,000th part of


;

54 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OP ASTRONOMY.


the earth's polar axis ; and to make the side of the square
base equal to just so many of these sacred cubits as there
are daysand parts of a day in a year. They were further,

by supernatural help, enabled to square the and


circle,

symboUsed their victory over this problem by making the

pyramid's height bear to the perimeter of the base the ratio


which the radius of a circle bears to the circumference.
Moreover, the great precessional period, in which the earth's
axis gyrates like that of some mighty top around the
perpendicular to the ecliptic, was communicated to the
builders with a degree of accuracy far exceeding that of
the best modern determinations, and they were instructed
to symbolise that relation in the dimensions of the pyra-
mid's base. A value of the sun's distance more accurate
by far than modern astronomers have obtained (even since
the recent transit) was imparted to them, and they embodied
that dimension in the height of the pyramid. Other resuhs
which modern science has achieved, but which by merely
hun^anjn eans the architects _of the pyram id could noThave
obtained, were also supematurally communicated to them
so that the true mean density of the earth, her true shape,
the configuration of land and water, the mean temperature
of the earth's surface, and so forth, were either symbolised
in the great p)Tamid's position, or in the shape and dimen-
sions of its exterior and interior. In the p3T:amid also were
preserved the true, because supematurally communicated,
standards of length, area, capacity, weight, density, heat,
time, and money. The p)rramid also indicated, by certain
features of its interior structure, that when it was built the
holy influences of the Pleiades were exerted from a most
effective position the meridian, through the points where
the ecliptic and equator intersect. [And as the pyramid
thus significantly refers to the past, so also it indicates the
future history of the earth, especially in showing when and
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 55

where the millennium is to beginJ Lastly, the apex or


crowning stone of the pyramid was no other than the
antitype of that stone of stumbling and rock of offence,
rejected by builders who knew not its true use, until it was
finally placed as the chief stone of the corner. Whence
naturally, 'whosoever shall
fall upon it' that is, upon the
pyramid religion ' shall be broken ; but on whomsoever
it shall fall it will grind him to powder.'
If we examine the relations actually presented by the
great p)Tamid its geographical position, dimensions, shape,
and internal structure without hampering ourselves with
the tenets of the new faith on the one hand, or on the other
with any serious anxiety to disprove them, we shall find
much to suggest that the builders of the p3?ramid were
ingenious mathematicians, who had made some progress in
astronomy, though not so much as they had made in the
mastery of mechanical and scientific difficulties.

The first point to be noticed is the geographical position


of the great pyramid, so far, at least, as this position affects
the aspect of the heavens, viewed from the pyramid as from
an observatory. Little importance, I conceive, can be
attached to purely geographical relations in considering the
pyramid's position. Professor Smyth notes that the pyra
mid is pecuharly placed with respect to the mouth of the
Nile, standing '
at the southern apex of the Delta-land of
Egypt.' This region being shaped like a fan, the pyramid,
set at the part corresponding to the handle, was, he con-
siders, 'that monument pure and undefiled in its religion

throughan idolatrous land, alluded to by Isaiah the ;

monument which was both " an altar to the Lord in the


midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border
thereof," and destined withal to become a witness in the
latter days, and before the consummation of all things, to

the same Lord, and to what He hath purposed upon man-


^ MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
kind.' Still more some other notes upon the
fanciful are

pyramid's geographical position as (i.) that there is more


:

land along the meridian of the pyramid than on any other


all the world round (ii.) that there is more land in the
;

latitude of the pyramid than in any other ; and (iii.) that


the pyramid territory of Lower Egypt is at the centre of the
dry land habitable by man all the world over.
does not seem to be noticed by those who call our
It

attention to these points that such coincidences prove too


much. It might be regarded as not a mere accident that
the great pyramid stands at the centre of the arc of shore-
Une along which lie the outlets of the Nile ; or it might be
regarded as not a mere coincidence that the great pyramid
stands at the central point of all the habitable land-surface
of the globe ; or, again, any one of the other relations

above mentioned might be regarded as something more


than a mere coincidence. But if, instead of taking only
one or other of these four relations, we take all four of
them, or even any two of them, together, we must regard
peculiarities of the earth's configuration as the result of

special design which certainly have not hitherto been so


regarded by geographers. For instance, if it was by a
special design that the pyramid was placed at the centre of
the Nile delta, and also by special design that the pyramid
was placed at the centre of the land-surface of the earth, if

these two relations are each so exactly fulfilled as to render


the idea of mere accidental coincidence inadmissible, then
it follows, of necessity, that it is through no merely accidental
coincidence that the centre of the Nile delta lies at the
centre of the land-surface of the earth ; in other words, the
shore-line along which lie the mouths of the Nile has been
designedly curved so as to have its centre so placed. And
so of the other relations. The very fact that the four con-
ditions can be fulfilled simultaneously is evidence that a
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 57

coincidence of the sort may result from mere accident^


Indeed, the peculiarity of geographical position which really
seems to have been in the thoughts of the pyramid archi-
tects, introduces yet a fifth condition which by accident
could be fulfilled along with the four others.
It would seem that the builders of the pyramid were
anxious to place it in latitude 30, as closely as their means

of observation permitted. Let us consider what result they

achieved, and the evidence thus afforded respecting their


skill and scientific attainments. In our own time, of
course, the astronomer has no difficulty in determining with
great exactness the position of any given latitude-parallel.
But at the time when the great pyramid was built it must
have been a matter of very serious difficulty to determine
the position of any required latitude-parallel with a great
degree of exactitude. The most obvious way of dealing
with the difficulty would have been by observing the length
of shadows thrown by upright posts at noon in spring and
autumn. In latitude 30 north, the sun at noon in spring
(or, to speak precisely, on the day of the vernal equinox)
is just twice as far from the horizon as he is from the point
vertically overhead ; and if a pointed post were set exactly

upright at true noon (supposed to occur at the moment of the


vernal or autumnal equinox), the shadow of the post would
be exactly half as long as a line drawn from the top of the
pole to the end of the shadow. But observations based on
this principle would have presented many difficulties to the

1 Of course it may be argued that nothing in the world is the result


of mere accident, and some may assert that even matters which are
commonly regarded as entirely casual have been specially designed.
It would not be easy to draw the precise line dividing events which all
men would regard as to all intents and purposes accidental from those
which some men would regard as results of special providence. But
common sense draws a sufficient distinction, at least for our preseni
purpose.
58 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
architects of the pyramid. The sun not being a point of
but a globe, the shadow of a pointed rod does not
light,

end in a well-defined point The moment of true noon,


which is not the same as ordinary or civil noon, never does
agree exactly with the time of the vernal or autumnal
equinox, and may be removed from it by any interval of

time not exceeding twelve hours. And there are many


other circumstances which would lead astronomers, like
those who doubtless presided over the scientific preparations
for building the great pyramid, to prefer a means of deter-
mining the latitude depending on another principle. The
stellar heavens would afford practically unchanging indica-

tions for their purpose. The stars being all carried round
the pole of the heavens, as if they were fixed points in the
interior of a hollow revolving sphere, it becomes possible
to determine the position of the pole of the star sphere,
even though no bright conspicuous star actually occupies
that point. Any bright star close by the pole is seen to
revolve in a very small circle, whose centre is the pole itself
Such a star is our present so-called pole-star ; and, though
in the days when the great pyramid was built, that star was
not near the pole, another, and probably a brighter star lay
near enough to the pole' to serve as a pole-star, and to
indicate by its circling motion the position of the actual pole
of the heavens. This was at that time, and for many sub-

1 This star, called Thuban from the Arabian al-Thiiban, the


Dragon, is now not veiy bright, being rated at barely above the fourth
magnitude, but it was formerly the brightest star of the constellation,
as its name indicates. Bayer also assigned to it the first letter of the
Greek alphabet ; though this is not absolutely decisive evidence that
so late as his day it retained its superiority over the second magnitude
stars to which Bayer assigned the second and third Greek letters. In
the year 2790 B.C., or thereabouts, the star was at its nearest to the
true north pole of the heavens, the diameter of the little circle in which
it then moved being considerably less than one-fourth the apparent
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 59

sequent centuries, the leading star of the great constellation


called the Dragoa
The pole of the heavens, we know, varies in position
according to the latitude of the observer. At the north
pole it is exactly overhead ; at the equator the poles of the
heavens are both on the horizon ; and, as the observer
travels from the equator towards the north or south pole
of the earth, the corresponding pole of the heavens rises
higher and higher above the horizon. In latitude 30
north, or one-third of the way from the equator to the
pole, the pole of the heavens is raised one-third of the way
from the horizon to the point vertically overhead ; and when
this is the case the observer knows that he is in latitude 30.
The builders of the great pjnramid, with the almost con-
stantly clear skies of Egypt, may reasonably be supposed
to have adopted this means of determining the true position
of that thirtieth parallel on which they appear to have de-
signed to place the great building they were about to erect.
It so happens that we have the means of forming an
opinion on the question whether they used one method or
the other ; whether they employed the sun or the stars to

guide them to the geographical position they required. In


fact, were it not for this circumstance, I should not have
thought it worth while to discuss the qualities of either
method. It will presently be seen that the discussion bears
importantly on the opinion we are to form of the skill and
attainments of the pyramid architects. Every celestial

diameter of the moon. At that time the star must have seemed to all

ordinary obsei-vation an absolutely fixed centre, round which all the

other stars revolved. At the time when the pyramid was built this
star was about removed from the true pole, revolving
sixty times farther
in a circle whose apparent diameter was about seven times as great as

the moon's. Yet it would still be regarded as a veiy useful pole-star,


especially as there are vciy few conspicuous stars in the neighbour-

hood.
;

6o MYTHS AffD MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


object is apparently raised somewhat above its true position

by the refractive power of our atmosphere, being most


raised when nearest the horizon and least when nearest

the point vertically overhead. This effect is, indeed, so


marked on bodies close to the horizon that if the astro-
nomers of the pyramid times had observed the sun, moon,
and stars attentively when so placed, they could not have
failed to discover the peculiarity. Probably, however,
though they noted the time of rising and setting of the
celestial bodies, they only made instrumental observations
upon them when these bodies were high in the heavens.
Thus they remained ignorant of the refractive powers of
the air.* Now, if they had determined the position of the
thirtieth parallel of latitude by observations of the noonday

sun (in spring or autumn), then since, owing to refraction,


they would have judged the sun to be higher than he really
was, it follows that they would have supposed the latitude
of any station from which they observed to be lower than
it really was. For the lower the latitude the higher is the
noonday sun at any given season. Thus, when really in

latitude 30 they would have supposed themselves in a


latitude lower than 30, and would have travelled a little

farther north to find the proper place, as they would have


supposed, for erecting the great pyramid. On the other
hand, if they determined the place from observations of
the movements of stars near the pole of the heavens, they
would make an error of a precisely opposite nature. For the
higher the latitude the higher is the pole of the heavens
and refraction, therefore, which apparently raises the pole
of the heavens, gives to a station the appearance of being
in a higher latitude than it really is, so that the observer

^ Even that skilful astronomer Hipparchus, who may be justly


called the father of observational astronomy, overlooked this peculiarity,
which Ptolemy would seem to have been the first to recognise.
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 61

would consider he was in latitude 30 north when in reality


somewhat south of that latitude. We have only then to
inquire whether the great pyramid was set north or south
of latitude 30, to ascertain whether the pyramid architects
observed the noonday sun or circumpolar stars to determine
their latitude ; always assuming (as we reasonably may) that
those architects did propose to set the pyramid in that parti-
cular latitude, and that they were able to make very accurate
observations of the apparent positions of the celestial bodies,
but that they were not acquainted with the refractive effects
of the atmosphere. The answer comes in no doubtful terms.
The centre of the great pyramid's base lies about one mile
and a third south of the thirtieth parallel of latitude ; and
from this position the pole of the heavens, as raised by
refraction, would appear to be very near indeed to the
required position. In fact, if the pyramid had been set
about half a mile still farther south the pole would have
seemed just right.
Of course, such an explanation as I have here suggested
appears altogether heretical to the pyramidalists. Accord-
ing to them the p)n:amid architects knew perfectly well
where the true thirtieth parallel lay, and knew also all that

modem science has discovered about refraction ; but set

the pyramid south of the true parallel and north of the


position where refraction would just have made the appar-
ent elevation of the pole correct, simply in order that the
pyramid might correspond as nearly as possible to each of
two conditions, whereof both could not be fulfilled at once.
The pyramid would indeed, they say, have been set even
more closely midway between the true and the apparent
parallels of30 north, but that the Jeezeh hill on which h
is does not afford a rock foundation any farther north
set

'So very close,' says Professor Smyth, 'was the great


pyramid placed to the northern brink of its hill, that the
62 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
edges of the cliff might have broken off under the terrible

pressure had not the builders banked up there most firmly


the immense mounds of rubbish which came from their
work, and which Strabo looked so particularly for 1800
years ago, but could not find. Here they were, however,
and still are, utilised in enabling the great pyramid to
stand on the very utmost verge of its commanding hill,

within the limits of the two required latitudes, as well as

over the centre of the land's physical and radial formation,


and at the same time on the sure and proverbially wise
foundation of rock.'
The next circumstance to be noted in the position of
the great pyramid (as of all the pyramids) is that the sides
are carefully oriented. This, like the approximation to a
particular latitude, must be regarded as an astronomical
rather than a geographical relation. The accuracy with
which the orientation has been effected show
will serve to

how had mastered the methods of astrono-


far the builders

mical observation by which orientation was to be secured


The problem was not so simple as might be supposed by
those who are not acquainted with the way in which the
cardinal points are correctly determined. By solar obser-
vations, or rather by the observations of shadows cast by
vertical and after noon, the direction of the
shafts before
meridian, or north and south line, can theoretically be
ascertained. But probably in this case, as in determining
the latitude, the builders took the stars for their guide.
The pole of the heavens would mark the true north and ;

equally the pole-star, when below or above the pole, would


give the true north, but, of course, most conveniently when
below the pole. Nor is it difficult to see how the builders
would make use of the pole-star for this purpose. From
the middle of the northern side of the intended base they
would bore a slant passage tending always from the posi-
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 63

tion of the pole-star at its lower meridional passage, that

star at each successive return to that position serving to


direct their progress ; while its small range, east and west
of the pole, would enable them most accurately to deter-
mine the star's true mid-point below the pole ; that is, the
true north. When they had thus obtained a slant tunnel
pointing truly to the meridian, and had carried it down to
a point nearly below the middle of the proposed square
base, they could, from the middle of the base, bore verti-
cally downwards,
until by rough calculation they were near
the lower end of the slant tunnel ; or both tunnels could
be made at the same time. Then a subterranean chamber
would be opened out from the slant tunnel. The vertical
boring, which need not be wider than necessary to allow a
plumb-line to be suspended down it, would enable the
architects to determine the point vertically below the point
of suspension. The slant tunnel would give the direction
of the true north, either from that point or from a point at
some known small distance east or west of that point.'
Thus, a line from some ascertained point near the mouth
of the vertical boring to the mouth of the slant tunnel
would lie due north and south, and serve as the required
guide for the orientation of the pyramid's base. If this
base extended beyond the opening of the slant tunnel,
then, by continuing this tunnelling through the base tiers

of the pyramid, the means would be obtained of correcting


the orientation.
This, I say, would be the course naturally suggested to

^ It would only be by a lucky accident, of course, that the direc-


tion of the slant tunnel's axis and that of the vertical from the selected
central point would lie in the same vertical plane. The object of the

tunnelling would, in fact, be to determine how far apart the vertical


planes through these points lay, and the odds would be great against
the result proving to be zero.
b4 MYTHS AND MAR VEl.S OF ASTRONOMY.
astronomical architects who had determined the latitude in
the manner described above. It may even be described as
the only very accurate method available before the telescope
had been invented. So that if the accuracy of the orienta-
tion appears to be greater than could be obtained by the
shadow method, the natural inference, even in the absence
of corroborative evidence, would be that the stellar method,
and no other, had been employed. Now, in 1779, Nouet,
by refined observations, found the error of orientation
measured by less than 20 minutes of arc, corresponding
roughly to a displacement of the comers by about 37^
inches from their true position, as supposed to be deter-
mined from the centre or to a displacement of a southern
;

comer by S3 inches on an east and west line from a point


due south of the corresponding northern corner. This
error, for a base length of 9140 inches, would not be serious,

being only one inch in about five yards (when estimated in


the second way). Yet the result is not quite worthy of the
praise given to it by Professor Smyth. He himself, how-
ever, by much more exact observations, with an excellent

altazimuth, reduced the alleged error from 20 minutes to


only 4^, or to 9-40ths of its formerly supposed value.
This made the total displacement of a southern corner from
the true meridian through the corresponding northern corner,
almost exactly one foot, or one inch in about twenty-one
yards
a degree of accuracy rendering it practically certain
that some stellar method was used in orienting the base.
Nowthere is a slanting tunnel occupying precisely the
position of the tunnel which should, according to this view
have been formed in order accurately to orient the p5rramid's
base, assuming that the time of the building of the pyramid
corresponded with one of the epochs when the star Alpha
DxaconisjEas distant 3 42' from the pole of the heavens.
In other words, there is a slant tunnel directed northwards
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 65

and upwards trom a point deep down below the middle of


the pyramid's base, and inclined 26 17' to the horizon, the
elevation of Alpha Draconi s at its lower culmination when
3 42' from the pole. The last epoch when the star was
thus placed was cirdter 2160 B.C.; the epoch next before
that was 3440 B.c Between these two we should have
to choose, on the hypothesis that the slant tunnel was really
directed to that star when the foundations of the pyramid
were laid. For the next epoch before the earlier of the two
named was about 28,000 B.C., and the pyramid's date cannot
have been more remote than 4000 b.g
The slant tunnel, while admirably fulfilling the require-
ments suggested, seems altogether unsuited for any other.
Its transverse height (that is, its width in a direction per-
pendicular to its upper and lower faces) did not amount to
quite four feet ; its breadth was not quite three feet and a

half It was, therefore, not well fitted for an entrance


passage to the subterranean chamber immediately under
the apex of the pyramid (with whichchamber it communi-
cates in the manner suggested by the above theory). It

could not have been intended to be used for observing


meridian transits of the stars in order to determine sidereal
time ; for close circumpolar stars, by reason of their slow

motion, are the least suited of all for such a purpose. As


Professor Smyth says, in arguing against this suggested
use of the star, '
no observer in his senses, in any existing
observatory, when seeking to obtain the time, would observe
the transit of a circumpolar star for anything else than to

get the direction of the meridian to adjust his instrument by.'

(The italics are his.) It is precisely such a purpose (the


adjustment, however, not of an instrument, but of the entire
structure of the pyramid itself), that I have suggested for
this remarkable passage this 'cream-white, stone-lined,

long tube,' where it traverses the masonry of the pyramid,


66 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
and below that dug through the solid rock to a distance of
more than 350 feet.
Let us next consider the dimensions of the square base
thus carefully placed in latitude 30 north to the best of the
builders' power, with sides carefully oriented.
It seems highly probable that, whatever special purpose
the pyramid was intended to fulfil, a subordinate idea of
the builders would have been to represent symbolically in
the proportions of the building such mathematical and
astronomical relations as they were acquainted with. From
what we know by tradition of the men of the remote time
when the pyramid was built, and what we can infer from
the ideas of those who inherited, however remotely, the
modes of thought of the earliest astronomers and mathe-
maticians, we can well believe that they would look with
superstitious reverence on special figures, proportions, num-
bers, and so forth. Apart from this, they may have had a
quasi-scientific desire to make a lasting record of their dis-
coveries, and of the collected knowledge of their time.
seems altogether probable, then, that the smaller unit
It

of measurement used by the builders of the great Pyramid


was intended, as Professor Smyth thinks, to be equal to the
500, 000,000th part of the earth's diameter, determined from
their geodetical observations. It was perfectly within the

power of mechanicians and mathematicians so experienced


as they undoubtedly were
the pyramid attests so much
to measure with considerable accuracy the length of a
degree of latitude. They could not possibly (always setting
aside the theory of divine inspiration) have
known anything
about the compression of the earth's globe, and therefore
could not have intended, as Professor Smyth supposes, to
have had the 500,000,000th part of the earth's polar axis,
as distinguished from any other, for their unit of length.
But if they made observations in or near latitude 30 north
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 67

on the supposition that the earth is a globe, their probable


error would exceed the difference even between the earth's
polar and equatorial diameters. Both differences are largely
exceeded by the range of difference among the estimates
of the actual length of the sacred cubit, supposed to have
contained twenty-iive of these smaller units. And, again,
the length of the pyramid base-side, on which Smyth bases
his own estimate of the sacred cubit, has been variously
estimated, the largest measure being 9168 inches, and the
lowest 9 II o inches. The fundamental theory of the
pyramidaHsts, that the sacred cubit was exactly one
20,000,000th part of the earth's polar diameter, ad that
the side of the base contained as many cubits and parts of
a cubit as there are days and parts of a day in the tropical
year (or year of seasons), requires that the length of the
side should be 9140 inches, lying between the limits indi-
cated, but so widely removed from either that it would
still

appear very unsafe to base a theory on the supposition that


the exact length is or was 9140 inches. If the measures

9168 inches and 91 10 inches were inferior, and several


excellent measures made by practised observers ranged
around the length 9 1 40 inches, the case would be different.
But the best recent measures gave respectively 9 1 1 o and
9130 inches; and Smyth exclaims against the unfairness
of SirH. James in taking 9120 as 'therefore the [probable]
true length of the side of the great pyramid when perfect,'
calling this 'a dishonourable shelving of the honourable
older observers with their larger results.' The only other
measures, besides these two, are two by Colonel Howard
Vyse and by the French savants, giving respectively 9168
and 916344 inches. The pyramidalists consider 9140
inches a fair mean value from these four. The natural in-
ference, however, is, that the pyramid base is not now in a

condition to be satisfactorily measured ;


and assuredly no
68 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
such reliance can be placed on the mean value 9140 inches
that, on the strength of it, we should believe what other-
wise would be utterly incredible, viz. that the builders of
the great pyramid knew both the size and shape of the
'

earth exactly.' '


Humanly, or by human science, finding
it out in that age was, of course, utterly impossible,' says
Professor Smyth. But he is so confident of the average
value derived from widely conflicting base measures as to
assume that this value, not being humanly discoverable, was
of necessity '
attributable to God and to His Divine inspira-

tion.' We may agree, in fine, with Smyth, that the builders


of the pyramid knew the earth to be a globe ; that they
took for their measure of length the sacred cubit, which, by
^heir earth measures, they made very fairly approximate to
the 20,000,000th part of the earth's mean diameter; but
there seems no reason whatever for supposing (even if the
supposition were not antecedently of its very nature inad-
missible) that they knew anything about the compression
of the earth, or that they had measured a degree of latitude
in their own place with very wonderful accuracy. ^

' It may, perhaps, occur to the reader to inquire what diameter of


the earth, supposed to be a perfect sphere, would be derived from a
degree of latitude measured with absolute accuracy near latitude 30.
A degree of latitude measured in polar regions would indicate a
diameter greater even than the equatorial ; one measured in equatorial
regions would indicate a diameter less even than the polar. Near
latitude 30 the measurement of a degree of latitude would indicate a
diameter very nearly equal to the true polar diameter of the earth. In
fact, if it could be proved that the builders of the pyramid used for
their unit of length an exact subdivision of the polar diameter, the
inference would be that, while the coincidence itself was merely acci-
dental, their measurement of a degree of latitude in their own country
had been singularly accurate. By an approximate calculation I find
that, taking the earth's compression at 1-300, the diameter of the
earth, estimated from the accurate measurement of a degree of latitude
in the neighbourhood of the great pyramid, would have made the
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 69

But here a very singular coincidence may be noticed,


or, rather, is forced upon our notice by the pyramidalists,
who strangely enough recognise in it fresh evidence of
design, while the unbeliever finds in it proof that coinci-
dences are no sure evidence of design. The side of the
pyramid containing 365-J- times the sacred cubit of 25
pyramid inches, it follows that the diagonal of the base
contains 12,912 such inches, and the two diagonals together
contain 25,824 pyramid inches, or almost exactly as many
inches as there are years in the great precessional period.
'No one whatever amongst men,' says Professor Smyth
after recording various estimates of the precessional period,
'
from his own or school knowledge, knew anything about
such a phenomenon, until Hipparchus, some 1900 years
after the great pyramid's foundation, had a glimpse of the
fact ; and yet it had been ruling the heavens for ages, and
was recorded in Jeezeh's ancient structure.' To minds not
moved to most energetic forgetfulness by the spirit of faith,
it would appear that when a square base had been decided
upon, and its dimensions fixed, with reference to the earth's

diameter and the year, the diagonals of the square base


were determined also; and, if it so chanced that they
corresponded with some other perfectly independent rela-

tion, the fact was not to be credited to the architects.


Moreover it is manifest that the closeness of such a coinci-
dence suggests grave doubts how far other coincidences can
be relied upon as evidence of design. It seems, for instance,

altogether likely that the architects of the pyramid took the


sacred cubit equal to one 20,000,000th part of the earth's

diameter for their chief unit of length, and intentionally

assigned to the side of the pyramid's square base a length

sacred cubit taken at


one 20,000,000th of the diameter equal to
24-98 British inches ; a closer approximation than Professor Smyth's
to the estimated mean probable value of the sacred cubit.
70 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
of just SO many cubits as there are days in the year ; and
the closeness of the coincidence between the measured
length and that indicated by this theory strengthens the
idea that this was the builder's purpose. But when we find

that an even closer coincidence immediately presents itself,

which manifestly is a coincidence only, the force of the


evidence before derived from mere coincidence '\^ pro tanto

shaken. For consider what this new coincidence really


means. Its nature may be thus indicated Take the :

number of days in the year, multiply that number by 50,


and increase the result in the same degree that the diagonal
of a square exceeds the side
then the resulting number
represents very approximately the number of years in the
great precessional period. The error, according to the best
modem estimates, is about one 57 5th part of the true
period. This is, of course, a merely accidental coincidence,
for there is no connection whatever in nature between the
earth's period of rotation, the shape of a square, and the
earth's period of gyration. Yet this merely accidental
coincidence is very much closer than the other supposed to
be designed could be proved to be. It is clear, then, that

mere coincidence is a very unsafe evidence of design.


Of course the pyramidalists find a ready reply to such
reasoning. They argue that, in the first place, it may haVe
been by express design that the period of the earth's rota-
tion was made to bear this particular relation to the period

of gyration in the mighty precessional movement which :

is much as though one should say that by express design


the height of Monte Rosa contains as many feet as there
are miles in the 6000th part of the sun's distance.* Then,

' It is, however, almost impossible to mark any limits to what may
be regarded as evidence of design by a coincidence-hunter. I quote
the following from the late Professor De Morgan's Budget of Paradoxes.
Having mentioned that 7 occurs less frequently than any other digit
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 71

they urge, the architects were not bound to have a square


base for the pyramid ; they might have had an oblong or a
triangular base, and so forth all which accords very ill

with the enthusiastic language in which the selection of a


square base had on other accounts been applauded.
Next let us consider the height of the pyramid. Accord-
ing to the best modern measurements, it would seem that
the height when pyramid terminated above in
(if ever) the
a pointed apex, must have been about 486 feet And from
the comparison of the best estimates of the base side with
the best estimates of the height, it seems very likely indeed
that the intention of the builders was to make the height
bear to the perimeter of the base the same ratio which the
radius of a circle bears to the circumference. Remember-
ing the range of difference in the base measures it might
be supposed that the exactness of the approximation to
this ratio could not be determined very satisfactorily. But
as certain casing stones have been discovered which indicate
with considerable exactness the slope of the original plane-
surfaces of the pyramid, the ratio of the height to the side
of the base may be regarded as much more satisfactorily

determined than the actual value of either dimension. Of

in the number expressing the ratio of circumference to diameter of a


circle, he proceeds :
'
A correspondent of my friend Piazzi Smyth
notices that 3 is the number of most frequency, and that 3^ is the
nearest approximation to it in simple digits. Professor Smyth, whose
work on Egypt is paradox of a very high order, backed by a great
quantity of useful labour, the results of which will be made available
by thosewho do not receive the paradoxes, is inclined to see confirma-
tion forsome of his theory in these phenomena.' In passing, I may
mention as the most singular of these accidental digit relations which
I have yet noticed, that in the first 1 10 digits of the square root of 2,

the number 7 occurs more than twice as often as either 5 or 9, which


each occur eight times, l and 2 occurring each nine times, and 7
occurring no less than eighteen times.
72 Myths and mak vbls of astronomV.
course the pyramidalists claim a degree of precision indi-
cating a most accurate knowledge of the ratio between the
diameter and the circumference of a circle ; and the angle
of the only casing stone measured being diversely estimated
at 51 50' and 51 52;^', they consider 50 51' i4"3" the true
value,and infer that the builders regarded the ratio as
3'i4r59 to i. The real fact is, that the modem estimates
of the dimensions of the casing stones (which, by the way,
ought to agree better if these stones are as weU made as
stated) indicate the values 3 -14392 2 8 and 3 13967 40 for the
ratio ; and all we can say is, that the ratio reaUy used lay
probably between these limits, though it may have been
outside either. Now the approximation of either is not
remarkably close. It requires no mathematical knowledge
at all to determine the circumference of a circle much more
exactly. ' I thought it very strange,' wrote a circle-squarer
once to De Morgan {Budget of Paradoxes, p. 389), that '

so many great scholars in all ages should have failed in


finding the true ratio, and have been determined to try
myself.' ' I have been informed,' proceeds De Morgan,
.

' that this trial makes the diameter


to the circumference as
64 to 201, giving the ratio equal to 3-1410625 exactly.
The was obtained by the discoverer in three weeks
result
after he
heard of the existence of the difficulty.
first This
quadrator has since published a httle slip and entered it
at Stationers' Hall. He says he has done it by actual
measurement; and hear from a private source that he
I

uses a disc of twelve inches diameter which he rolls upon


a straight rail.' The rolling is a very creditable one it is
'
;

as much below mark as Archimedes was above it. Its


the
performer is a joiner who evidently knows well what he 15
about when he measures ; he is not wrong by i in 3000.'
Such mechanicians as the builders of the pyramid
skilful

could have obtained a closer approximation still by mere


TtlE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 73

iheasurement Besides, as they were manifestly mathema-


ticians, such an approximation as was obtained by Archi-
medes must have been well within their power ; and that
approximation Ues well within the limits above indicated.
Professor Smyth remarks that the ratio was 'a quantity
which men in general, and all human science too, did not
begin to trouble themselves about until long, long ages,
languages,and nations had passed away after the building
of the great pyramid; and after the sealing up, too, of that
grand primeval and prehistoric monument of the patriarchal
age of the earth according to Scripture.' I do not know
where the Scripture records the sealing up of the great
pyramid ; but it is all but certain that during the very
time when the pyramid was being built astronomical ob-
servations were in progress which, for their interpretation,
involved of necessity a continual reference to the ratio in
question. No one who considers the wonderful accuracy
with which, nearly two thousand years before the Christian
era, the Chaldaeans had determined the famous cycle of the
Saros, can doubt that they must have observed the heavenly
bodies for several centuries before they could have achievedl
such a success ; and the study of the motions of the celestiall

bodies compels '


men to trouble themselves ' about the-

famous ratio of the circumference to the diameter.


We now come upon a new relation (contained in \he

dimensions of the pyramid as thus determined) which, by ai

strange coincidence, causes the height of the pyramid to


appear to symbolise the distance of the sun. There were
5813 pyramid inches, or 5819 British inches, in the height
of the pyramid according to the relations already indicated.

Now, in the sun's distance, according to an estimate recently


adopted and freely used,^ there are 91,400,000 miles or
'
I have substituted this value in the article ' Astronomy,' of the
British Encyclopedia, for the estimate formerly used, viz. 95,233,055
74 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
5791 thousand millions of inches that is, there are

approximately as many thousand millions of inches in the


sun's distance as there are inches in the height of the
pyramid. If we take the relation as exact we should infer

for the sun's distance 5819 thousand millions of inches,


or 91,840,000 miles
an immense improvement on the
estimate which for so many years occupied a place of
honour in our books of astronomy. Besides, there is strong

reason for believing that, when the results of recent obser-


vations are worked out, the estimated sun distance will be
much nearer this pyramid value than even to the value
9 1,400,000 recently adopted. This result, which one would
have thought so damaging to faith in the evidence from
coincidence nay, quite fatal after the other case in which
a close coincidence had appeared by merest accident is

regarded by the pyramidalist as a perfect triumph for their


faith.

They connect it with another coincidence, viz. that,

assuming the height determined in the way already indicated,


then it so happens that the height bears to half a diagonal
of the base the ratio 9 to 10. Seeing that the perimeter
of the base symbolises the annual motion of the earth round
the sun, while the height represents the radius of a circle
with that perimeter, it follows that the height should sjTn-
That line, further,' says Professor
bolise the sun's distance. '

Smyth (speaking on behalf of Mr. W. Petrie, the discoverer


of this relation), '
must represent ' this radius '
in the pro-
portion of I to 1,000,000,000' (or ten raised to power w'^),

because amongst other reasons 10 to 9 is practically the


'

shape of the great pyramid.' For this building has such '

an angle at the comers, that for every ten units its structure
advances inwards on the diagonal of the base, it practically

miles. But there is good reason for believing that the actual di.stance

is nearly 92,000,000 miles.


THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 75

rises upwards, or points to sunshine ' {sic) '


by nine. Nine,
too, out of the ten characteristic parts (viz. five angles and
five sides) being the number of those parts which the sun
shines on in such a shaped pyramid, in such a latitude near
the equator, out of a high sky, or, as the Peruvians say,
when the sun sets on the pyramid with all its rays.' The
coincidence itself on which this perverse reasoning rests is
a singular one singular, that is, as showing how close an
accidental coincidence may run. It amounts to this, that
if the number of days in the year be multiplied by 100, and
a circle be drawn with a circumference containing 100 times
as many inches as there are days in the year, the radius of
the circle will be very nearly one i, 000,000,000th part of
the sun's distance. Remembering that the pyramid inch is

assumed to be one soo,ooo,oooth part of the earth's


diameter, we shall not be far from the truth in saying' that,

by her orbital motion traverses


as a matter of fact, the earth
each day a distance equal to two hundred times her own
diameter. But, of course, this relation is altogether acci-
dental. It has no real cause in nature.'
Such relations show that mere numeric'l coincidences,
however close, have little weight as evidence, except where

' It may be matched by other coincidences as remarkable and as


little the result of the operation of any natural law. For instance, the
following strange relation, introducing the dimensions of the sun
himself, nowhere, so far as I have yet seen, introduced among pyramid
relations, even by pyramidalists :
'
If the plane of the ecliptic were a
true surface,and the sun were to commence rolling along that surface
towards the part of the earth's orbit where she is at her mean distance,
while the earth commenced rolling upon the sun (round one of his great
circles), each globe turning round in the same time, then, by the
time the earth had rolled its way once round the sun, the sun would
have almost exactly reached the earth's orbit. This is only another
way of saying that the sun's diameter exceeds the earth's in almost exactly

the same degree that the sun's distance exceeds the sun's diameter.'
76 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
they occur in series. Even then they require to be very
cautiously regarded, seeing that the history of science records
many instances where the apparent law of a series has been
found to be falsified when the theory has been extended.
Of course this reason is not quoted in order to throw doubt
on the supposition that the height of the pyramid was
intended to symboUse the sun's distance. That supposition
is simply inadmissible if the hypothesis, according to which
the height was already independently determined in another
way, is admitted. Either hypothesis might be admitted were
we not certain that the sun's distance could not possibly have
been known to the builders of the pyramid ; or both
hypotheses may be rejected but to admit both is out of
:

the question.
j^onsidering the multitude of dimensions of length,
surface, capacity, and position, the great number of shapes,
and the variety of material existing within the pyramid, and
considering, the enormous number of relations
further,

(presented by modern science) from among which to choose,


can it be wondered at if fresh coincidences are being con-
tinually recognised ? If a dimension will not serve in one
way, use can be found for it in another ; for instance, if

some measure of length does not correspond closely with


any known dimension of the earth or of the solar system
(an unlikely supposition), then it can be understood to typify

an interval of time. If, even after trying all possible


changes of that kind, no coincidence shows itself (which is

all but impossible), then all that is needed to secure a


coincidence is that the dimensions should be manipulated
a little.

Let a single instance suffice to show how the pyra-


midalists (with perfect honesty of purpose) hunt down a
coincidence. The slant tunnel already described has a
transverse height, once no doubt uniform, now giving
THE RELIGION OF THE GREAT PYRAMID. 77

various measures from 47 14 pyramid inches to 47'32


inches, so that the vertical height from the known incU-
nation of the tunnel would be estimated at somewhere
between 52.64 inches and 52-85. Neither dimension
corresponds very obviously with any measured distance in
the earth or solar system. Nor when we try periods, areas,
etc., does any very satisfactory coincidence present itself.

But the difficulty is easily turned into a new proof of de-


sign. Putting all the observations together (says Professor
Smyth), '
deduced 47*24 pyramid inches to be the trans-
I

verse height of the entrance passage ; and computing from


thence with the observed angle of inclination the vertical
height, thatcame out 5276 of the same inches. But the
sum of those two heights, or the height taken up and down,
equals 100 inches, which length, as elsewhere shown, is the
general pyramid linear representation of a day of twenty-four
hours. And the mean of the two heights, or the height
taken one way only, and impartially to the middle point
between them, equals fifty inches ; which quantity is, there-
fore, the general pyramid linear representation of only half
a day. In which case, let us ask what the entrance passage
has to do with half rather than a whole day ?'

On relations such as these, which, if really intended by


the architect, would imply an utterly fatuous habit of con-

cealing elaborately what he desired to symbolise, the pyra-


midalists base their belief that '
a Mighty Intelligence did
both think out the plans for it, and compel unwilling and
ignorant idolators, in a primal age of the world, to work
mightily both for the future glory of the one true God of
Revelation, and to establish lasting prophetic testimony
touching a further development, still to take place, of the
absolutely Divine Christian dispensation.'
;

78 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.

III.

I'HE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS.


Few subjects of inquiry have proved more perplexing than
the question of the purpose for which the pyramids of
Egypt were built Even in the remotest ages of which we
have historical record, nothing seems to have been known
certainly on this point. For some reason or other, the

builders of the pyramids concealed the object of these


structures, and this so successfully that not even a tradition
has reached us which purports to have been handed down
from the epoch of the p3framids' constructioa We find,

indeed, some explanations given by the earliest historians

but they were professedly only hypothetical, like those


advanced in more recent times. Including ancient and
modern theories, we find a wide range of choice. Some
have thought that these buildings were associated with the
religion of the early Egyptians ; others have suggested that
they were tombs ; others, that they combined the purposes
of tombs and temples, that they were astronomical obser-
vatories, defences against the sands of the Great Desert,
granaries like those made under Joseph's direction, places
of resort during excessive overflows of the Nile ; and many
other uses have been suggested for them. But none of
these ideas are found on close examination to be tenable
as representing the sole purpose of the pyramids, and few
of them have strong claims to be regarded as presenting
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 79

even a chief object of these remarkable structures. The


and perplexing history of the three oldest pyra-
significant

mids the Great Pyramid of Cheops, Shofo, or Suphis, the
pyramid of Chephren, and the pyramid of Mycerinus ; and
the most remarkable of all the facts known respecting the
pyramids generally, viz., the circumstance that one pyramid
after another was built as though each had become useless
soon after it was finished, are left entirely unexplained by
all the theories above mentioned, save one only, the tomb
theory, and that does not afford by any means a satisfactory
explanation of the circumstances.
I propose to give here a brief account of some of the

most suggestive facts known respecting the pyramids, and,


after considering the difficulties which beset the theories
heretofore advanced, to indicate a theory (new so far as I

know) which seems to me to correspond better with the


facts than any heretofore advanced ; I suggest it, however,
rather for consideration than because I regard it as very
convincingly supported by the evidence. In fact, to ad-
vance any theory at present with confident assurance of
its correctness, would be simply to indicate a very limited
acquaintance with the difficulties surrounding the subject.
Let us first consider a few of the more striking facts
recorded by history or tradition, noting, as we proceed,
whatever ideas they may suggest as to the intended char-
acter of these structures.
It is hardly necessary to say, perhaps, that the history
of is of paramount importance in this
the Great P)a:amid
inquiry. Whatever purpose pyramids were originally in-
tended to subserve, must have been conceived by the
builders of that pyramid. New ideas may have been
superadded by the builders of later pyramids, but it is

unlikely that the original purpose can have been entirely


abandoned. Some great purpose there was, which the
8o MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
rulers of ancient Egypt proposed to fulfil by building very
massive pyramidal structures on a particular plan. It is

by inquiring into the history of the first and most massive


of these structures, and by examining its construction, that
we shall have the best chance of finding out what that great
purpose was.
According to Herodotus, the kings who built the pyra-
mids reigned not more than twenty-eight centuries ago;
but there can be little doubt that Herodotus misunderstood
the Egyptian priests from whom he derived his information,
and that the real antiquity of the pyramid-kings was far

greater. He tells us that, according to the Egyptian priests,

Cheops '
on ascending the throne plunged into all mannei
of wickedness. He closed the temples, and forbade the
Egyptians to offer sacrifice, compelling them instead to
labour one and all in his service, viz., in building the Great
Pyramid.' Still following his interpretation of the Egjrptian
account, we learn that one hundred thousand men were
employed for twenty years in building the Great P)rramid,
and that ten years were occupied in constructing a cause-
way by which to convey the stones to the place and in
conveying them there. Cheops reigned fifty years and
'
;

was succeeded by his brother Chephren, who imitated the


conduct of his predecessor, built a p)rramid but smaller
than his brother's and reigned fifty-six vears. Thus
during one hundred and six years, the temples were shut
and never opened.' Moreover, Herodotus tells us that
'
the Egyptians so detested the memory of these kings, that
they do not much like even to mention their names.
Hence they commonly call the pyramids after Philition, a
shepherd who at that time fed his flocks about the place.'
'
After Chephren, Mycerinus, son of Cheops, ascended the
throne, he reopened the temples, and allowed the people
to resume the practice of sacrifice. He, too, left a pyra-
;

THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 81

mid, but much inferior in size to his father's. It is built,


for half of its height, of the stone of Ethiopia,' or, as Pro-
fessor Smyth (whose extracts from Rawlinson's translation
I have here followed) adds '
expensive red granite.' '
After
Mycerinus, Asychis ascended the throne. He built the
eastern gateway of the Temple of Vulcan (Phtha) and, ;

being desirous of eclipsing all his predecessors on the throne,


left as a monument of his reign a pyramid of brick.'
This account is so suggestive, as will presently be
shown, that it may be well to inquire whether it can be
relied on. Now, although there can be no doubt that
Herodotus misunderstood the Egyptians in some matters,
and in particular as to the chronological order of the
dynasties, placing the pyramid kings far too late, yet in
other respects he seems not only to have understood them
correctly, but also to have received a correct account from
them. The order of the kings above named corresponds
with the sequence given by Manetho, and also found in
monumental and hieroglyphic records. Manetho gives the
names Suphis I., Suphis II., and Mencheres, instead of
Cheops, Chephren, and Mycerinus ; while, according to the
modem Herodotus's Cheops was Shofo,
Egyptologists,
Shufu, or Koufou
Chephren was Shafre, while he was also
;

called Nou-Shofo or Noum-Shufu as the brother of Shofo

and Mycerinus was Menhere or Menkerre. But the identity


of these kings is not questioned. As to the true dates
there is much doubt, and it is probable that the question
will long continue open ; but the determination of the
exact epochs when the several pyramids were built is not
very important in connection with our present inquiry.
We may, on the whole, fairly take the points quoted above
from Herodotus, and proceed to consider the significance
of the narrative, with sufficient confidence that in all

essential, respects it is trustworthy.


G,
82 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
There are several very strange features in the account
In the first place, it is manifest that Cheops (to call the
first king by the name most familiar to the general reader)

attached great importance to the building of -his pyramid.


It has been said, and perhaps justly, that it would be more
interesting to know the plan of the architect who devised
the pyramid than the purpose of the king who built it
But the two things are closely connected. The architect
must have satisfied the king that some highly important
purpose in which the king himself was interested, would bi
subserved by the structure. Whether the king was per-
suaded to undertake the work as a matter of duty, or only
to advance his own interests, may not be so clear. But
that the king was most thoroughly in earnest about the
work is certain. A monarch in those times would assuredly
not have devoted an enormous amount of labour and
material to such a scheme unless he was thoroughly con-
vinced of its That the welfare of his
great importance.
people was not considered by Cheops in building the Great
Pyramid is almost equally certain. He might, indeed,
have had a scheme for their good which either he did not
care to explain to them or which they could not under-
stand. But the most natural inference from the narrative
is had no reference whatever to their
that his purpose
welfare. one could understand his own
For though
subjects hating him while he was all the time working for
their good, it obvious that his memory would not have
is

been hated if some important good had eventually been


gained from his scheme. Many a far-seeing ruler has been
hated while living on account of the very work for which
his memory has been revered. But the memory of Cheops
and his successors was held in detestation.
May we, however, suppose that, though Cheops had not
the welfare of his own people in his thoughts, his purpo.se
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 83

was nevertheless not selfish, but intended in some way to


promote the welfare of the human race ? I say his purpose,
because, whoever originated the scheme, Cheops carried it
out ; it was by means of his wealth and through his power
that the pyramid was built This is the view adopted by
Professor Piazzi Smyth and others, in our own time, and
first suggested by John Taylor. Whereas other writers,'

says Smyth, '


have generally esteemed that the mysterious
persons who directed the building of the Great Pyramid
(and to whom the Egyptians, in their traditions, and for ages
afterwards, gave an immoral and even abominable character)
must therefore have been very bad indeed, so that the world
at large has always been fond of standing on, kicking, and
insulting that dead lion, whom they really knew not ; he,
Mr. John Taylor, seeing how religiously bad the Egyptians
themselves were, was led to conclude, on the contrary, that
those they hated (and could never sufficiently abuse) might,
perhaps, have been pre-eminently good; or were, at all
events, of different religious faith from themselves.' Com- '

bining this with certain unmistakable historical facts,' Mr.


Taylor deduced reasons for believing that the directors of
the building designed to record in its proportions, and in its

interior features, certain important religious and scientific

truths, not for the people then living, but for men who were
to come 4000 years or so after.

I have already considered at length (see the preceding


Essay) the evidence on which this strange theory rests.

But there are certain matters connecting it with the above


narrative which must here be noticed. The mention of

the shepherd Philition, who fed his flocks about the place
where the Great Pyramid was built, is a singular feature of
Herodotus's narrative. It reads like some strange mis-
interpretation of the story related to him by the Egyptian
priests. It is obvious that if the word Philition did not
84 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
represent a people, but a person, this person must have been
very eminent and distinguished a shepherd-king, not a
mere shepherd. Rawlinson, in a note on this portion of the
narrative of Herodotus, suggests that Philitis was probably
a shepherd-prince from Palestine, perhaps of Philistine de-
scent, '
but so powerful and domineering, that it may be tra-

ditions of his oppressions in that earlier age which, mixed


up afterwards in the minds of later Egyptians with the evils

inflicted on their country by the subsequent shepherds of


better known dynasties, lent so much fear to their religious
hate of Shepherd times and that name.' Smyth, somewhat
modifying and considering certain remarks of
this view,
Manetho respecting an alleged invasion of Egypt by
shepherd-kings, men of an ignoble race (from the Egyptian
'

point of view) who had the confidence to invade our


country, and easily subdued it to their power without a
battle,' comes to the conclusion that some Shemite prince,
'
a contemporary of, but rather older than, the Patriarch
Abraham,' visited Egypt at this time, and obtained such
influence over the mind of Cheops as to persuadehim to
erect the pyramid According to Smyth, the prince was no
other than Melchizedek, king of Salem, and the influence
he exerted was supernatural With such developments of
the theory we need not trouble ourselves.It seems tolerably

clear that certain shepherd-chiefs who came to Egypt


during Cheops' reign were connected in some way with the
designing of the Great Pyramid. It is clear also that they
were men of a different religion from the Egyptians, and
persuaded Cheops to abandon the religion of his people
Taylor, Smyth, and the Pyramidalists generally, consider
this suflScient to prove that the pyramid was erected for

some purpose connected with religion. '


The pyramid,' in

fine, says Smyth, 'was charged by God's inspired shepherd-


prince, in the beginning of human time, to keep a certain
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 85

message secret and inviolable for 4000 years, and it has


done so \ and in the next thousand years it was to enun-
ciate that message to all men, with more than traditional
force, more than all the authenticity of copied manuscripts
or reputed history ; and that part of the pyramid's useful-
ness is now beginning.'
There are many very obvious difficulties surrounding
this theory ; as, for example (i.) the absurd waste of power
in setting supernatural machinery
work 4000 years ago at
with cumbrous devices when the same
to record its object,
machinery, much more simply employed now, would effect
the alleged purpose far more thoroughly ; (ii.) the enormous
amount of human misery and its attendant hatreds brought
about by this alleged divine scheme ; and (iii.) the futility
of an arrangement by which the pyramid was only to sub-
serve its purpose when, it had lost that perfection of shape
on which its entire significance depended, according to
the theory itself But, apart from these, there is a difficulty,

nowhere noticed by Smyth or his followers, which is fatal,

I conceive, to this theory of the pyramid's purpose. The


second pyramid, though slightly inferior to the first in size,

and probably far inferior in quality of masonry, is still a


structure of enormous dimensions, which must have required
many years of labour from tens of thousands of workmen.
Now, seems impossible to explain why Chephren built
it

this second pyramid, if we adopt Smyth's theory respecting


the first pyramid. For either Chephren knew the purpose
for which the Great P3rramid was built, or he did not know
it. If he knew that purpose, and it was that indicated by

Smyth, then he also knew


no second pyramid was
that

wanted. On the labour bestowed on


that hypothesis, all

the second pyramid was wittingly and wilfully wasted. This,

of course is incredible. But, on the other hand, if Chephren


did not know what was the purpose for which the Great
86 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
Pyramid was what reason could Chephren have had for
built,

building a pyramid at all ? The only answer to this ques-


tion seems to be that Chephren built the second pyramid in
hopes of finding out why his brother had built the first, and
this answer is simply absurd. It is clear enough that
whatever purpose Cheops had in building the first pyramid,
Chephren must have had a similar purpose in building the
second ; and we require a theory which shall at least explain
why the first pyramid did not subserve for Chephren the
purpose which it subserved or was meant to subserve for

Cheops. The same reasoning may be extended to the third


pyramid, to the fourth, and in fine to all the pyramids,
forty or so in number, included under the general designa-
Pyramids of Ghizeh or Jeezeh. The extension
tion of the
of the principle to pyramids later than the second is
especially important as showing that the difference of
on by Smyth has no direct bearing on the
religion insisted
question of the purpose for which the Great Pyramid itself
was constructed. For Mycerinus either never left or else
returned to the religion of the Egyptians. Yet he also
built a pyramid, which, though far inferior in size to the

pyramids built by his father and uncle, was still a massive


structure, and relatively more costly even than theirs, be-
cause built of expensive granite. The p)Tamid built by
Asychis, though smaller still, was remarkable as built of
brick ; in fact, we are expressly told that Asychis desired
to eclipse all his predecessors in such labours, and accord-
ingly left this brick pyramid as a monument of his reign.
We are forced, in fact, to believe that there was some
special relation between the pyramid and its builder, seeing
that each one of these kings wanted a pyramid of his own.
This applies to the Great Pyramid quite as much as to the
others, despite the superior excellence of that structure.
Or rather, the argument derives its chief force from the
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 87

superiority of the Great Pyramid. If Chephren, no longer


perhaps having the assistance of the shepherd-architects in
planning and superintending the work, was unable to con-
struct a pyramid so perfect and so stately as his brother's,
the very fact that he nevertheless built a pyramid shows
that the Great Pyramid did not fulfil for Chephren the
purpose which it fulfilled for Cheops. But, if Smyth's
theory were true, the Great Pyramid would have fulfilled
finally and for all men the purpose for which it was built.
Since this was manifestly not the case, that theory is, I

submit, demonstrably erroneous.


It was probably the consideration of this point, viz. that

each king had a pyramid constructed for himself, which


led to the theory that the pyramids were intended to serve
as tombs. This theory was once very generally enter-
tained. Thus we find Humboldt, in his remarks on
American pjramids, referring to the tomb theory of the
Egyptian pyramids as though it were open to no question.
'
When we consider,' he says, '
the pyramidical monuments
of Egypt, of Asia, and of the New Continent, from the
same point of view, we see that, though their form is alike,
their destination was altogether different. The group of
pyramids of Ghizeh and at Sakhara in Egypt the triangular ;

pyramid of the Queen of the Scythians, Zarina, which was


a stadium high and three in circumference, and which was
decorated with a colossal figure; the fourteen Etruscan
pyramids, which are said to have been enclosed in the
labyrinth of the king Porsenna, at Clusium were reared

to serve as the sepulchres of the illustrious dead. Nothing


is more natural to men than to commemorate the spot
where rest the ashes of those whose memory they cherish

whether it be, as in the infancy of the race, by simple


mounds of earth, or, in later periods, by the towering height

of the tumulus. Those of the Chinese and of Thibet have


88 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
only a few metres of elevation. Farther to the west the
dimensions increase ; the tumulus of the king Alyattes,
father of Croesus, inLydia, was six stadia, and that of
Ninus was more than ten stadia in diameter. In the north
of Europe the sepulchre of the Scandinavian king Gormus
and the queen Daneboda, covered with mounds of earth, are
three hundred metres broad, and more than thirty high.'
But while we have abundant reason for believing that

in Egypt, even in the days of Cheops and Chephren,


extreme importance was attached to the character of the
place of burial for distinguished persons, there is nothing
in what is known respecting earlier Egyptian ideas to
suggest the probability that any monarch would have
devoted many years of his subjects' labour, and vast stores
of material, to erect a mass of masonry like the Great
Pyramid, solely to receive his own body after death. Far
less have we any reason for supposing that many monarchs
in succession would do this, each having a separate tomb
built for him. It might have been conceivable, had only
the Great Pyramid been erected, that the structure had
been raised as a mausoleum for all the kings and princes of
the dynasty. But it seems utterly incredible that such a
building as the Great Pyramid should have been erected
for one king's body only
and that, not in the way described
by Humboldt, when he speaks of men commemorating the
spot where rest the remains of those whose memory they
cherish, but at the expense of the king himself whose body
was be there deposited.
to Besides, the first pyramid, the
one whose history must be regarded as most significant of
the true purpose of these buildings, was not built by an
Egyptian holding in great favour the special religious ideas
of his people, but by one who had adopted other views and
those not belonging, so far as can be seen, to a people among
whom sepulchral rites were held in exceptional regard
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 89

A still Stronger objection against the exclusively tombic


theory resides in the fact that this theory gives no account
whatever of the characteristic features of the pyramids
themselves. These buildings are all, without exceptira^
built on special astronomical principles. Their square
bases are so placed as to have two sides lying east and west,
and two lying north and south, or, in other words, so that
their four faces front the four cardinal points. One can
imagine no reason why a tomb should have such a position.
It is not, indeed, easy to understand why any building at
all, except an astronomical observatory, should have such a
position. A temple perhaps devoted to sun-worship, and
generally to the worship of the heavenly bodies, might be
built in that way. For it is to be noticed that the peculiar
figure and position of the pyramids would bring about the
following relations :
When the sun rose and set south of
the east and west points, or (speaking generally) between
the autumn and the spring equinoxes, the rays of the rising
and setting sun illuminated the southern face of the pyramid;
whereas during the rest of the year, that is, during the six
months between the spring and autumn equinoxes, the rays
of the rising and setting sun illuminated the northern face.
Again, all the year round the sun's rays passed from the
eastern to the western face at solar noon. And lastly,

during seven months and a half of each year, namely, for


three months and three quarters before and after mid-
summer, the noon rays of the sun fell on all four faces of

the pyramid, or, according to a Peruvian expression (so


Smyth avers), thesun shone on the pyramid 'with all his_
rays.' Such conditions as these might have been regarded
as very suitable for a temple devoted to sun-worship. Yet
the temple theory is as untenable as the tomb theory. For,
in the first place, the pyramid form as the pyramids were
originally built, with perfectly smooth slant-faces, not terraced

90 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
into Steps as now through the loss of the casing-stones
was entirely unsuited for all the ordinary requirements of a
temple of worship. And further, this theory gives no
explanation of the fact that each king built a pyramid, and
each king only. one. Similar difficulties oppose the theory
that the pyramids were intended to serve as astronomical
observatories. For while their original figure, however
manifestly astronomical in its relations, was quite unsuited
for observatory work, it is manifest that if such had been the
purpose of pyramid-building, so soon as the Great Pyramid
had once been built, no other would be needed. Certainly
none of the pyramids built afterwards could have subserved
any astronomical purpose which the first did not subserve,
or have subserved nearly so well as the Great Pyramid those
purposes (and they are but few) which that building may
be supposed to have fulfilled as an astronomical observatory.
Of the other theories mentioned at the beginning of
this paper none seem to merit special notice, except per-
haps the theory that the pyramids were made to receive the
royal treasures, and this theory rather because of the atten-
tion it received from Arabian literati, during the ninth and
tenth centuries, than because of any strong reasons which
can be suggested in its favour. '
Emulating,' says Professor
Smyth, '
the enchanted tales of Bagdad,' the court poets of
Al Mamoun (son of the far-famed Haroun al Raschid)
' drew gorgeous pictures of the contents of the pyramid's
interior. . . All the treasures of Sheddad Ben Ad the
great Antediluvian king of the earth, with all his medicines
and all his sciences, they declared were there, told over
and over again. Others, though, were positive that the
founder-king was no other than Saurid Ibn Salhouk, a far
greater one than the other ; and these last gave many more
minute particulars, some of which are at least interesting to
us in the present day, as proving that, amongst the Egypto-
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 91

Arabians of more than a thousand years ago, the Jeezeh


pyramids, headed by the grand one, enjoyed a pre-eminence
of fame vastly before all the other pyramids of Egypt put
together ; and that if any other is alluded to after the Great
Pyramid (which has always been the notable and favourite
one, and chiefly was known then as the East ppamid), it
iseither the second one at Jeezeh, under the name of the
West pyramid; or the third one, distinguished as the
Coloured pyramid, in allusion to its red granite, compared
with the white limestone casings of the other two (which,
moreover, from their more near, but by no means exact,
equality of size, went frequently under the affectionate
designation of " the pair ").'

The report of Ibn Abd Alkohm, as to what was to be


found in each of these three p)Tamids, or rather of what,
according to him, was put into them originally by King
Saurid, runs as follows :
'
In the Western pyramid, thirty
treasuries filled with store of riches and utensils, and with
signatures made of precious stones, and with instruments
of iron and vessels of earth, and with arms which rust not,
and with glass which might be bended and yet not broken,
and with strange spells, and with several kinds of alakakirs
(magical precious stones) single and double, and with
deadly poisons, and with other things besides. He made
also in the East ' (the Great Pyramid) '
divers celestial
spheres and stars, and what they severally operate in their
aspects, and the perfumes which are to be used to them,
and the books which treat of these matters. He put also
into the coloured pyramid the commentaries of the priests
in chests of black marble, and with every priest a book, in
which the wonders of his profession and of his actions and
of his nature were written, and what was done in his time,
and what is and what shall be from the beginning of time
to the end of it' The rest of this worthy's report relates
92 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
to certain treasurers placed within these three pyramids to

guard their contents, and (like all or most of what I have


already quoted) was a work of imagination. Ibn Abd
Alkohm, was a romancist of the first water.
in fact,
Perhaps the strongest argument against the theory that
the pyramids were intended as strongholds for the conceal-
ment of treasure, resides in the fact that, search bemg made,
no treasure has been discovered. When the workmen
employed by Caliph Al Mamoun, after encountering mani-
fold difficulties, at length broke their way into the great
ascending passage leading to the so-called King's Chamber,
they found '
a right noble apartment, thirty-four feet long,
seventeen broad, and nineteen high, of polished red granite
throughout, walls, floor, and ceiling, in blocks squared and
true, and put together with such exquisite skill that the
joints are barely discernible to the closest inspection. But
where is the treasure the silver and the gold, the jewels,
medicines, and arms These
? fanatics look wildly around
them, but can see nothing, not a single dirhem anjrwhere.
They trim their torches, and carry them again and again
to every part of that red-walled, flinty hall, but without any
better success. Nought but pure polished red granite, in
mighty slabs, looks upon them from every side. The room
is clean, garnished too, as it were, and, according to the
ideas of its founders, complete and perfectly ready for its

visitors so long expected, so long delayed. But the gross


minds who occupy it now, find it all barren, and declare
that there nothing whatever for them in the whole extent
is

of the apartment from one end to another ; nothing except


an empty stone chest without a lid.'

It is, however, to be noted that we have no means of


learning what had happened between the time when the
pyramid was built and when Caliph Al Mamoun's workmen
broke their way into the King's Chamber. The place may,
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 93

after all, have contained treasures of some kind; nor, in-

deed, is it incompatible with other theories of the pyramid


to suppose that it was used as a safe receptacle for treasures.

It is certain, however, that this cannot have been the special


purpose for which the pyramids were designed. We should
find in such a purpose no explanation whatever of any of
the most stringent difiSculties encountered in dealing with
other theories. There could be no reason why strangers
from the East should be at special pains to instruct an
Egyptian monarch how to hide and guard his treasures.
Nor, if the Great Pjnramid had been intended to receive
the treasures of Cheops, would Chephren have built another
for his own treasures, which must have included those

gathered by Cheops. But, apart from this, how incon-


ceivably vast must a treasure-hoard be supposed to be, the
safe guarding of which would have repaid the enormous
cost of the great Pyramid in labour and material And !

then, why should a mere treasure-house have the character-


istics of an astronomical observatory? Manifestly, if the
pyramids were used at all to receive treasures, it can only
have been as an entirely subordinate though perhaps con-
venient means of utilising these gigantic structures.
Having thus gone through all the suggested purposes
of the pyramids save two or three which clearly do not
possess any claim to serious consideration, and having
found none which appear to give any sufficient account of
the history and principal features of these buildings, we
must either abandon the inquiry or seek for some explana-
tion quite different from any yet suggested. Let us con-
sider what are the principal points of which the true theory
of the pyramids should give an account.
In the first place, the history of the pyramids shows
that the erection of the first great pyramid was in all prob-

ability either suggested to Cheops by wise men who visited


94 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
Egypt from the East, or else some important information
conveyed to him by such visitors caused him to conceive
the idea of building the pyramid. In either case we may
suppose, as the history indeed suggests, that these learned
men, whoever they may have been, remained in Egypt to
superintend the erection of the structure. It may be that

the architectural work was not under their supervision ; in

fact, it seems altogether unlikely that shepherd-rulers would


have much to teach the Egyptians in the matter of archi-
tecture. But the astronomical peculiarities which form so
significant a feature of the Great PjTramid were probably
provided for entirely under the instructions of the shepherd
chiefswho had exerted so strange an influence upon the
mind of King Cheops.
Next, it seems clear that self-interest must have been
the predominant reason in the mind of the Egyptian king
for undertaking this stupendous work. It is true that
his change of religion implies that some higher cause in-

fluenced him. But a ruler who could inflict such grievous


burdens on his people in carrying out his purpose that for

ages afterwards his name was held in utter detestation,


cannot have been solely or even chiefly influenced by re-

ligious motives. It affords an ample explanation of the


behaviour of Cheops, in closing the temples and forsaking
the religion of his country, to suppose that the advantages
which he hoped to secure by building the pyramid de-
pended in some way on his adopting this course. The
visitors from the East may have refused to give their assist-
ance on any other terms, or may have assured him that
the expected benefit could not be obtained if the pyramid
were erected by idolaters. It is certain, in any case, that
they were opposed to idolatry and we have thus some
;

means of inferring who they were and whence they came.


We know that one particular branch of one particular
THE MYSTER V OF THE PYRAMIDS. 95

race in the East was characterised by a most marked


hatred of idolatry in all its forms. Terah and his family,
or, probably, a sect or division of the Chaldaean people,
went forth from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of
Canaan and why they went forth we learn
the reason
from a book of considerable historical interest (the book of
Judith) to have been because '
they would not worship the
gods of their fathers who were in the land of the Chaldasans.'
The Bible record shows that members of this branch of the
Chaldaean people visited Egypt from time to time. They
were shepherds, too, which accords well with the account
of Herodotus above quoted. We can well understand
that persons of this family would have resisted all endea-
vours to secure their acquiescence in any scheme associ-
ated with idolatrous rites. Neither promises nor threats
would have had much influence on them. It was a dis-

tinguished member of the family, the patriarch Abraham,


who said :
'
I have lift up mine hand unto the Lord, the
most high God, the possessor of heaven and earth, that I

will not take from a thread even to a shoe-latchet, and that


I will not take anything that is thine, lest thou shouldest
say, I have made Abram rich.' Vain would all the pro-
mises and all Cheops have been to men of
the threats of
this spirit. Such men might help him in his plans,
suggested, as the history shows, by teachings of their own,
but it must be on their own conditions, and those condi-
tions would most certainly include the utter rejection of

idolatrous worship by the king in whose behalf they


worked, as well as by all who shared in their labours. It

seems probable that they convinced both Cheops and


Chephren, that unless these kings gave up idolatry, the
purpose, whatever it was, which the pyramid was erected
to promote, would not be fulfilled. The mere fact that

the Great Pyramid was built either directly at the sugges-


96 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
had persuaded Cheops
tion of these visitors, or because they
of the truth of some important doctrine, shows that they
must have gained great influence over his mind. Rather
we may say that he must have been so convinced of their
knowledge and power as to have accepted with unquestion-
ing confidence all that they told him respecting the par-
ticular subject over which they seemed to possess so per-
fect a mastery.
But having formed the opinion, on grounds sufficiently
assvured, that the strangers who visited Egypt and super-
intended the building of the Great Pyramid were kinsmen
of the patriarch Abraham, it is not very difficult to decide
what was the subject respecting which they had such exact
information. They or their parents had come from the
land of the Chaldaeans, and they were doubtless learned in
all the wisdom of their Chaldaean kinsmen. They were
masters, in fact, of the astronomy of their day, a science
for which the Chaldaeans had shown from the earliest ages

the most remarkable aptitude. What the actual extent of


their astronomical knowledge may have been it would be
difficult to say. But it is certain, from the exact knowledge
which later Chaldaeans possessed respecting long astro-
nomical cycles, that astronomical observations must have
been carried on continuously by that people for many
hundreds of years. It is highly probable that the astro-
nomical knowledge of the Chaldaeans in the days of Terah
and Abraham was much more accurate than that possessed
by the Greeks even after the time of Hipparchus. ' We see

i
It has been remarked that, though Hipparchus had the enormous
advantage of being able to compare his own observations with those
recorded by the Chaldaeans, he estimated the length of the year less
correctly than the Chaldaeans. It has been thought by some that the

Chaldaeans were acquainted with the true system of the universe, but
\ do not know that there- are- sufficient grounds-for this supposition.
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 97

indeed, in the accurate astronomical adjustment of the


Great Pyramid, that the architects must have been skilful
astronomers and mathematicians ; and I may note here, in
passing, how strongly this circumstance confirms the opinion
were kinsmen of Terah and Abraham.
that the visitors All
we know from Herodotus and Manetho, all the evidence
from the circumstances connected with the religion of the
pyramid-kings, and the astronomical evidence given by the
pyramids themselves, tends to assure us that members of
that particular branch of the Chaldaean family which went
out from Ur of the Chaldees because, they would not worship
the gods of the Chaldseans, extended their wanderings to
Egypt, and eventually superintended the erection of the
Great Pyramid so far as astronomical and mathematical
relations were concerned
But not only have we already decided that the pyramids
were not intended solely or chiefly to subserve the purpose
of astronomical observatories, but it is certain that Cheops
would not have been personally much interested in any
astronomical information which these visitors might be able
to communicate. Unless he saw clearly that something
was to be gained from the lore of his visitors, he would not
have undertaken to erect any astronomical buildings at
their suggestion, even if he had cared enough for their

knowledge to pay any attention to them whatever. Most


probably the reply Cheops would have made to any com-
viunications respecting mere astronomy, would have run
much in the style of the reply made by the Turkish Cadi,
Imaum Ali Zadfe to a friend of Layard's who had appa-
rently bored him about double stars and comets :
'
Oh my
Diodoras Siculus and ApoUonius Myndius mention, however, that they
were able to predict the return of comets, and this implies that their
observations had been continued for many centuries with great care
and exactness.
gS MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
soul ! oh my lamb !' said Ali Zadfe, ' seek not after the things
which concern thee Thou camest unto us, and we
not.

welcomed thee go in peace. Of a truth thou hast spoken


:

many words and there is no harm done, for the speaker is


;

one and the listener is another. After the fashion of thy


people thou hast wandered from one place to another
until happy and content in none.
thou art Listen, oh my
son ! no wisdom equal unto the belief in God
There is !

He created the world, and shall we liken ourselves unto


Him in seeking to penetrate into the mysteries of His
creation? Shall we say, Behold this star spinneth round
that star, and this other star with a tail goeth and cometh
in so many years ! Let it go ! He from whose hand
it came

will guide and direct it But thou wilt say unto me, Stand
aside, oh man, for I am more learned than thou art, and
have seen more things. If thou thinkest that thou art in
this respect better than I am, thou art welcome. I praise
God that I seek not that which I require not Thou art

learned in the things I care not for and as for that which
;

thou hast seen, I defile it Will much knowledge create


thee a double belly, or wilt thou seek paradise with thine
eyes?' Such, omitting the references to the Creator,
would probably have been the reply of Cheops to his
visitors, had they only had astronomical facts to present

him with. Or, in the plenitude of his kingly power, he


might have more decisively rejected their teaching by re-

moving their heads.

But the shepherd-astronomers had knowledge more


attractive to offer than a mere series of astronomical dis-
coveries. Their ancestors had

Watched from the centres of their sleeping flocks


Those radiant Mercuries, that seemed to move
Carrying through aether in perpetual round
Decrees and resolutions of the gods ;
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 99

and though the visitors of King Cheops had themselves


rejected the Sabaistic polytheism of their kinsmen, they
had not rejected the doctrine that the stars in their courses
affect the fortunes of men. We know that among the Jews,
probably the direct descendants of the shepherd-chiefs who
visited Cheops, and certainly close kinsmen of theirs, and
akin to them also in their monotheism, the belief in as-
trology was never regarded as a superstition. In fact, we
can trace very clearly in the books relating to this people
that they believed confidently in the influences of the
heavenly bodies. Doubtless the visitors of King Cheops
shared the belief of their Chaldean kinsmen that astrology
is a true science, ' founded ' indeed (as Bacon expresses
their views) '
not in reason and physical contemplations,
but in the direct experience and observation of past ages.'
Josephus records the Jewish tradition (though not as a tra-
dition but as a fact) that our first father, Adam, was in-
'

structed in astrology by divine inspiration,' and that Seth so


excelled in the science, that, ' foreseeing the Flood and the
destruction of the world thereby, he engraved the funda-
mental principles of his art (astrology) in hieroglyphical
emblems, for the benefit of after ages, on two pillars of brick
and stone.' He says farther on that the Patriarch Abraham,
'having learned the art in Chaldsea, when he journeyed
into Egypt taught the Egyptians the sciences of arithmetic

and astrology.' Indeed, the stranger called Philitis by


Herodotus may, for aught that appears, have been Abraham
himself; for it is generally agreed that the word Philitis

indicated the race and country of the visitors, regarded by


the Egyptians as of Philistine descent and arriving from
Palestine. However, I am in no way concerned to show
that the shepherd-astronomers who induced Cheops to build

Pyramid were even contemporaries of Abraham


the Great
and Melchizedek. What seems sufficiently obvious is all

too MYTffS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
that I care to maintain, namely, that these shepherd-astrono-
mers were of Chaldasan birth and training, and therefore
astrologers, though, unlike their Chaldsean kinsmen, they
rejected Sabaism or star-worship, and taught the belief in

one only Deity.


Now, if these visitors were astrologers, who persuaded
Cheops, and were honestly convinced themselves, that they
could predict the events of any man's life by the Chaldaean
method of casting nativities, we can readily understand
many circumstances connected with the pyramids which
have hitherto seemed inexplicable. The pyramid built by
a king would no longer be regarded as having reference to
his death and burial, but to his birth and life, though after

his death it might receive his body. Each king would


require to have his own nativity-pyramid, built with due
symbolical reference to the special celestial influences
affecting his fortunes. Every portion of the work would
have to be carried out under special conditions, determined
according to the mysterious influences ascribed to the
different planets and their varying positions

now high, now low, then hid.


Progressive, retrograde, or standing still.

If the work had been intended only to afford the means


of predicting the king's future, the labour would have been
regarded by the monarch as well bestowed. But astrology
involved much more than the mere prediction of future
events. Astrologers claimed the power of ruling the planets
that is, of course, not of ruling the motions of those
bodies, but of providing against evil influences or strengthen-
ing good influences which they supposed the celestial orbs
to exert in particular aspects. Thus we can understand
that while the mere basement layers of the pyramid would

^rmvM University,
Jfhaca, N. Y.
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. loi

with due mystic observances, the further progress of build-


ing the pyramid would supply the necessary means and
indications for ruling the planets most potent in their influ-
ence upon the royal career.
Remembering the mysterious influence which astro-
logers ascribed to special numbers, figures, positions, and so
forth, the care with which the Great Pyramid was so propor-
tioned as to indicate particular astronomical and mathe-
matical relations is at once explained. The four sides of the
square base were carefully placed with reference to the
cardinal points, precisely like the four sides of the ordinary
square scheme of nativity.' The eastern side faced the
Ascendant, the southern faced the Mid-heaven, the western
faced the Descendant, and the northern faced the Imum
Coeli. Again, we can understand that the architects would

1 The language of the modern Zadkiels and Raphaels, though


meaningless and absurd in itself, yet, as assuredly derived from the
astrology of the oldest times, may here be quoted. (It certainly was
not invented to give support to the theory I am at present advocating.)

Thus runs the jargon of the tribe In order to illustrate plainly to


:
'

the reader what astrologers mean by the "houses of heaven," it is


proper for him to bear in mind the four cardinal points. The eastern,
facing the rising sun, has at its centre the first grand angle or first

house, termed the Horoscope or ascendant. The northern, opposite


the region where the sun is at midnight, or the cusp of the lower hea-
ven or nadir, is the Imum Coeli, and has at its centre the fourth house.

The western, facing the setting sun, has at its centre the third grand
angle or seventh house or descendant. And lastly, the southern, facing

the noonday sun, has at its centre the astrologer's tenth house, or Mid-
heaven, the most powerful angle or house of honour.' ' And although,'

proceeds the modern astrologer, '


we cannot in the ethereal blue discern

these lines or terminating divisions, both reason and experience assure


us that they certainly exist ; therefore the astrologer has certain grounds

for the choice of his four angular houses (out of twelve in all) ' which,
'

resembling the palpable demonstration they afford, are in the astral


science esteemed the most powerful of the whole.' Raphael's Manual
'

of Astrology. ,
'
:
'
a

102 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


have made a circuit of the base correspond in length with
the number of days in the year a relation which, according
to Prof P. Smyth, is manner, that the four
fulfilled in this

sides contain one hundred times as many pyramid inches


as there are days in the year. The pyramid inch, again,
is itself mystically connected with astronomical relations,

for its length is equal to the five hundred millionth part of


the earth's diameter, to a degree of exactness corresponding
well with what we might expect Chaldaean astronomers to
attain. Prof. Smyth, indeed, believes that it was exactly
equal to that proportion of the earth's polar diameter
view which would correspond with his theory that the archi-
tects of the Great Pyramid were assisted by divine inspira-
tion ; but what is certainly known about the sacred cubit,
which contained twenty-five of these inches, corresponds
better with the diameter which the Chaldean astronomers,
if they worked very carefully, would have deduced from ob-
servations made in their own country, on the supposition
which they would naturally have made that the earth is a
perfect globe, not compressed at the poles. It is not
indeed at all certain that the sacred cubit bore any refer-

ence to the earth's dimensions ; but this seems tolerably


well made out that the sacred cubit was about 25 inches
in length,and that the circuit of the pyramid's base con-
tained a hundred inches for every day of the year. Rela-
tions such as these are precisely what we might expect to
find in buildings having an astrological significance. Simi-
larly, it would correspond well with the mysticism of astro-

logy that the pyramid should be so proportioned as to make


the height be the radius of a circle whose circumference
would equal the circuit of the pyramid's base. Again, that
long slant tunnel, leading downwards from the pyramid's
northern face, would at once find a meaning in this astro-
logical theory. The slant tunnej^jointed__ta_the.p.ole:Staf-
,
The mystery of The pyramids. 103

of Cheop s' time, when due northbelow thg_j^rue pole of the


heavens! Ihis circumstance had no observational utility.'

It could afford no indication of time, because a pole-star


moves very slowly, and the pole-star ^jjfLrbp^r"' flay -mugt
have^ been in .view, through that tunnel for more than an
hour at a time. But, apart from the mystical significance
which an astrologer would attribute to such a relation, it

may be shown that this slant tunnel is precisely what the


astrologer would require in order to get the horoscope
correctly.

Another consideration remains to be mentioned which,


while strengthening the astrological theory of the pyramids,
may bring us even nearer to the true aim of those who
planned and built these structures.
It is known also that the Chaldaeans from the earliest

times pursued the study of alchemy in connection with


astrology, not homing to jiiscover the philosopher's stone by
cheinical investigations alone, %it by carryipg jrnj^^iirh
investigations under special celestial influence. The hope
of achieving this discovery, by which he would at once
have had the means of acquiring illimitable wealth, would
of itself account for the fact that Cheops expended so
much labour and material in the erection of the Great
Pyramid, seeing that, of necessity, success in the search for
the philosopher's stone would be a main feature of his
fortunes, and would therefore be astrologically indicated in

his nativity-pyramid, or perhaps even be secured by fol'

lowing mystical observances proper for ruling his planets.


The elixir of life may also have been among the objects
which the builders of the pyramids hoped to discover.
It may be noticed, as a somewhat significant circum-

stance, that, in the account given by Ibn Abd Alkohm of

the contents of the various pyramids, those assigned to the


Great Pyramid relate entirely to astrology and associated
;

104 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


mysteries. It is, of course, clear that Abd Alkohm drew
largely on his imagination. Yet it seems probable that

there was also some basis of tradition for his ideas. And
certainly one would suppose that, as he assigned a treasurer
to the East pyramid (' a statue of black agate, his eyes open
and shining, sitting on a throne with a lance '), he would
have credited the building with treasure also, had not some

tradition taught otherwise. But he says that King Saurid


placed in the East pyramid, not treasures, but 'divers
celestial spheres and stars, and what they severally operate
in their aspects, and the perfumes which are to be used to
them, and the books which treat of these matters."
But, after all, it must be admitted that the strongest
evidence in favour of the astrological (and alchemical)
theory of the pyramids is to be found in the circumstance
that all other theories seem untenable. The pyramids
were undoubtedly erected for some purpose which was re-

garded by their builders as most important. This purpose


certainly related to the personal fortunes of the kingly
builders. was worth an enormous outlay of money,
It

labour, and material. This purpose was such, furthermore,

1 Arabian writers give the following account of Egyptian progress


in astrology and the mystical arts Nacrawasch, the progenitor of
:

Misraim, was the first Egyptian prince, and the first of the magicians
who excelled in astrology and enchantment. Retiring into Egypt with
his family of eighty persons, he built Essous, the most ancient city of
Egypt, and commenced the first dynasty of Misraimitish princes, who
excelled as cabalists, diviners, and in the mystic arts generally. The
most celebrated of the race were Naerasch, who first represented by
images the twelve signs of the zodiac ; Gharnak, who openly described
the arts before kept secret Hersall, who first worshipped idols
;

Sehlouk,who worshipped the sun Saurid (King Saurid of Ibn Abd


;

Alkohm's account), who erected the first pyramids and invented the
magic mirror and Pharaoh, the last king of the dynasty, whose name
;

was afterwards taken as a kingly title, as Ctesar later became a general


impel ial title.
THE MYSTERY OF THE PYRAMIDS. 105

that each king required to have his own pyramid It was


in some way associated with astronomy, for the pyramids
are built with most accurate reference to celestial aspects.

It also had its mathematical and mystical bearings, seeing


that the pyramids exhibit mathematical and symbolical
peculiarities not belonging to their essentially structural
requirements. And lastly, the erection of the pyramids
was some way connected with the arrival of certain
in

learned persons from Palestine, and presumably of Chal-


dsan origin. All these circumstances accord well with the
theory I have advanced while only some of them, and
;

these not the most characteristic, accord with any of the


other theories. Moreover, no fact known respecting the
pyramids or their builders is inconsistent with the astro-
logical (and alchemical) theory. On the whole, then, if it

cannot be regarded as demonstrated (in its general bearing,

of course, for we cannot expect any theory about the


pyramids to be established in minute details), the astro-

logical theory may fairly be described as having a greater

degree of probability in its favour than any hitherto


advanced-
'

io6 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.

IV.

SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER


WORLDS.

If it were permitted to men to select a sign whereby they


should know that a message came from the Supreme
Being, probably the man of science would select for the
sign the communication of some
scientific fact beyond the

knowledge of the day, but admitting of being readily put


to the test The evidence thus obtained in favour of a
revelation would correspond in some sense to that depend-
ing on prophecies ; but it would be more satisfactory to
men having that particular mental bent which is called the
scientific. Whether this turn of mind is inherent or the
result of training, it certainly leads men of science to be
more exacting in considering the value of evidence than
any men, except perhaps lawyers. In the case of the
student of science, St. Paul's statement that '
prophecies
'
shall fail ' has been fulfilled, whereas it may be doubted
whether evidence from '
knowledge ' would in like manner
'
vanish away.' On the contrary, it would grow stronger
and stronger, as knowledge from observation, from experi-
ment, and from calculation continually increased. It can
scarcely be said that this has happened vi'ith such quasi-
scientific statements as have actually been associated with
revelation. If we regard St. Paul's reference to knowledge
as relating to such statements as these, then nothing could
'

SWEDENBORG'S visions of other worlds. 107

be more complete than the fulfilment of his own prediction,


'Whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether
there be tongues, they shall cease ; whether there be know-
ledge, it shall vanish away.' The evidence from prophecies
fails for the exact inquirer, who perceives the doubts which
exist (among the most earnest believers) as to the exact
meaning of the prophetic words, and even in some cases as
to whether prophecies have been long since fulfilled or re-
late to events still to come. The evidence from tongues '

has ceased, and those are dust who are said to have spoken
in strange tongues. The knowledge which was once thought
supernatural has utterly vanished away. But if, in the ages
of faith, some of the results of modem scientific research

had been revealed, as the laws of the solar system, the


great principle of the conservation of energy, or the wave
theory of light, or some of the questions which still re-
if

main for men of science to solve had been answered in


those times, the evidence for the student of science would
have been irresistible. Of course he will be told that even
then he would have hardened his heart ; that the inquiry
after truth tending naturally to depravity of mind, he
would reject even evidence based on his beloved laws of
probability; that his 'wicked and adulterous generation
seeketh " in vain " after a sign,' and that if he will not

accept Moses and the prophets, neither would he believe

though one rose from the dead Still the desire of the
student of science to base his faith on convincing evidence
(in a matter as important to him as to those who abuse
him) does seem to have something reasonable in it after all.

The mental qualities which cause him to be less easily satis-

fied than others, came to him in the same way as his bodily

quahties; and even if the result to which his mental training


leads him is as unfortunate as some suppose, that training

is not strictly speaking so heinously sinful that nothing short


:

io8 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


of the eternal reprobation meted out to him by earthly
judges can satisfy divine justice. So that it may be thought
not a wholly unpardonable sin to speak of a sign which,
had it been accorded, would have satisfied even the most
exacting student of science. Apart, too, from all question
of faith, the mere scientific interest of divinely inspired
communications respecting natural laws and processes
would justify a student of science in regarding them as
most desirable messages from a being of superior wisdom
and benevolence. If prophecies and tongues, why not
knowledge, as evidence of a divine mission ?

Such thoughts are suggested by the claim of some re-


ligious teachers to the possession of knowledge other than

that which they could have gained by natural means. The


claim has usually been quite honest. The teacher of
religion tests the reality of his mission in simple a priori
confidence that he has such a mission, and that therefore
some one or other of the tests he applies will afford the re-
quired evidence. To one, says St. Paul, is given the word
of wisdom ; to another, the word of knowledge ; to another,
faith ; to another, the gift of healing ; to another, the work-
ing of miracles ; to another prophecy ; to another, the dis-
cerning of spirits ; to another, divers kinds of tongues
and so fortL If a man like Mahomet, who believes in his
mission to teach, finds that he cannot satisfactorily work
miracles mountains not
that will be removed at his bid-

ding then some evidence other him of the reality satisfies

of his mission. Swedenborg, than whom, perhaps, no


more honest man ever lived, said and believed that to him
had been granted the discerning of spirits. It is to be '

observed,' he said, '


that a man may be instructed by spirits
and angels be so open as to enable him to
if his interiors

speak and be in company with them, for man in his essence


is a spirit, and is with spirits as to his interiors ; so that he
;

SWEDENBORG' S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 109

whose interiors are opened by the Lord may converse with


them, as man with man. This privilege I have enjoyed
daily now for twelve years.'
It indicates the fulness of Swedenborg's belief in this
privilege that he did not hesitate to describe what the
spirits taught him respecting matters which belong rather
to science than to faith ; though it must be admitted that
probably he supposed there was small reason for believing
that his statements could ever be tested by the results of
scientific researcL The objects to which his spiritual com-
munications related were conveniently remote. I do not

one moment to suggest that he pur-


say this as desiring for
posely selected those objects, and not others which might
be more readily examined. He certainly believed in the
reality of the communications he described. But possibly
there is some law in things visionary, corresponding to the

law of mental operation with regard to scientific theories


and as the mind theorises freely about a subject little under-
stood, but cautiously where many facts have been ascer-
tained, so probably exact knowledge of a subject prevents
the operation of those illusions which are regarded as super-
natural communications. It is in a dim light only that the
active imagination pictures objects which do not really
exist ; in the clear light of day they can no longer be im-
agined. So it is with mental processes.
Probably there is no subject more suitable in this sense

for the visionary than that of life in other worlds. It has


always had an attraction for imaginative minds, simply
because it is enwrapped in so profound a mystery; and
there has been little to restrain the fancy, because so Uttle

is certainly known of the physical condition of other worlds.


Recently, indeed, a somewhat sudden and severe check has
been placed on the liveliness of imagination which had
enabled men formerly to picture to themselves the inhabit-
no MYTHS AND MARVELS 02< ASTRONOMY.

ants of other orbs in space. Spectroscopic analysis and

exact telescopic scrutiny will not permit some speculations

to be entertained which formerly met Yet with favour.

even now there has been but a shght change of scene and
time. If men can no longer imagine inhabitants of one
planet because it is too hot, or of another because it is too

cold, of one body because it is too deeply immersed in


vaporous masses, or of another because it has neither atmo-
sphere nor water, we have only to speculate about the
unseen worlds which circle round those other suns, the
stars or, instead of changing the region of space where we
;

imagine worlds, we can look backward to the time when


planets now cold and dead were warm with life, or forward
when planets now glowing with fiery
to the distant future
heat shall have cooleddown to a habitable condition.
Swedenborg's imaginative mind seems to have fully felt
the charm of this interesting subject. It was, indeed,

because of the charm which he found in it, that he was


readily persuaded into the belief that knowledge had been
supernaturally communicated to him respecting it 'Be-
cause I had a desire,' he says, '
to know if there are other
earths, and to learn their nature and the character of their

inhabitants, it was granted me by the Lord to converse and


have intercourse with spirits and angels who had come from
other earths, with some for a day, with some for a week,

and with some for months. From them I have received


information respecting the earths from and near which they
are, the modes of life, customs and worship of their inhabit-
ants, besides various other particulars of interest, all which,
having come to my knowledge in this way, I can describe
as things which I have seen and heard.'
It is interesting (psychologically) to notice how the
reasoning which had convinced Swedenborg of the existence
of other inhabited worlds is attributed by him to the spirits.
SWEDENBORG' S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS, ill

'
It is well known in the other life,' he says, '
that there are
many earths with men upon them ; for there (that is, in the

spiritual life) every one who, from a love of truth and con-
sequent use, desires it, is allowed to converse with the spirits

of other earths, so as to be assured that there is a plurality


of worlds, and be informed that the human race is not
confined to one earth only, but extends to numberless
earths. ... I have occasionally conversed on this subject

with the spirits of our earth, and Ae result of our conversa-

tion was that a man of enlarged understanding may con-


clude from various considerations that there are many
earths with human inhabitants upon them. For it is an
inference of reason that masses so great as the planets are,

some of which exceed this earth in magnitude, are not


empty bodies, created only to be carried in their motion
round the sun, and to shine with their scanty light for the
benefit of one earth only ; but that they must have a nobler
use. He who believes, as every one ought to believe, that
the Deity created the universe for no other end than the
existence of the human race, and of heaven firom it (for the
human race is the seminary of heaven), must also believe
that wherever there is an earth there are human inhabitants.
That the planets which are visible to us, being within the

boundary of our solar system, are earths, may appear from


various considerations. They are bodies of earthy matter,

because they reflect the sun's light, and when seen through
the telescope appear, not as stars shining with a flaming
lustre, but as earths, variegated with obscure spots. Like
our earth, they are carried round the sun by a progressive
motion, through the path of the Zodiac, whence they have
years and seasons of the year, which are spring, summer,
autumn, and winter ; and they rotate upon their axes, which
makes days, and times of the day, as morning, midday,
evening, and night. Some of them also have satellites.
ti2 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
which perform their revolutions about their globes, as the
moon does about ours. The planet Saturn, as being
farthest from the sun, has besides an immense luminous
ring, which supplies that earth with much, though reflected,
light. How is it possible for any one acquainted with these
facts, and who thinks from reason, to assert that such bodies
are uninhabited?'
Remembering that this reasoning was urged by the
spirits,and that during *velve years Swedenborg's interiors
had been opened in such sort that he could converse with
spirits from other worlds, it is surprising that he should

have heard nothing about Uranus or Neptune, to say nothing


of the zone of asteroids, or again, of planets as yet unknown
which may exist outside the path of Neptune. He definitely
commits himself, it will be observed, to the statement that
Saturn is the planet farthest from the sun. And elsewhere,
in stating where in these spiritual communications the
'
idea ' of each planet was conceived to be situated, he
leaves no room whatever for Uranus and Neptune, and
makes no mention of other bodies in the solar system than
those known in his day. This cannot have been because
the spirits from then unknown planets did not feel them-
selves called upon
communicate with the spirit of one
to
who knew nothing of their home, for he received visitors
from worlds in the starry heavens far beyond human ken.
It would almost seem, though to the faithful Swedenborgian

the thought will doubtless appear very wicked, that the


system of Swedenborg gave no place to Uranus and Nep-
tune, simply because he knew nothing about those planets.
Otherwise, what a noble opportunity there would have been
for establishing the truth of Swedenborgian doctrines by
revealing to the world the existence of planets hitherto un-
known. Before the reader pronounces this a task beneath
the dignity of the spirits and angels who taught Swedenborg
SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 113

it will be well for him to examine the news which they


actually imparted.
I may as well premise, however, that it does not seem
to me worth while to enter here at any length into Sweden-
borg's descriptions of the inhabitants of other worlds,
because what he has to say on this subject is entirely
imaginative. There is a real interest for us in his ideas
respecting the condition of the planets, because those ideas
were based (though unconsciously)-upon the science of his
day, in which he was no mean proficient And even where
his mysticism went beyond what his scientific attainments
suggested, a psychological interest attaches to the workings
of his imagination. It is as curious a problem to trace his
ideas to their origin as it sometimes is to account for the
various phases of a fantastic dream, such a dream, for in-
stance, as that which Armadale, the doctor, and Midwinter,
in '
Armadale,' endeavour to connect with preceding events.
But Swedenborg's visions of the behaviour and appearance
of the inhabitants of other earths have little interest, because
it is hopeless to attempt to account for even their leading
features. For instance, what can we make of such a
passage as the following, relating to the spirits who came
from Mercury? 'Some of them are desirous to appear,
not like the spirits of other earths as men, but as crys-
talline globes. Their desire to appear so, although they
do not, arises from the circumstance that the knowledges
of things immaterial are in the other life represented by
crystals.'

Yet some even of these more fanciful visions signi-

ficantly indicate the nature of Swedenborg's philosophy.


One can recognise his disciples and his opponents among
the, unhappy worlds,
inhabitants of various favoured and
and one perceives how the wiser and more dignified of his
spiritual visitors are made to advocate his own views, and
114 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
to deride those of his adversaries. Some of the teachings
thus circuitously advanced are excellent.
For instance, Swedenborg's description of the inhab-
itants of Mercury and their love of abstract knowledge
contains an instructive lesson. 'The spirits of Mercury
imagine,' he says, 'that they know so much, that it is

almost impossible to know more. But it has been told


them by the spirits of our earth, that they do not know
many things, but few, and that the things which they know
not are comparativelyinfinite, and in relation to those they
do know are as the waters of the largest ocean to those of
the smallest fountain ; and further, that the first advance
to wisdom is to know, acknowledge, and perceive that what
we do know, compared with what we do not know, is so
little as hardly to amount to anything." So far we may
suppose that Swedenborg presents his own ideas, seeing
' It is noteworthy how Swedenborg here anticipates a saying of

Laplace, the greatest mathematician the world has known, save Newton
alone. Newton's remark that he seemed but as a child who had
gathered a few shells on the shores of ocean, is well known. Lap-
lace's words, ' Ce que nous connaissons est peu de chose ; ce que nous
ignorons est immense' were not, as is commonly stated, his last. De
Morgan gives the following account of Laplace's last moments, on the
authority of Laplace's friend and pupil, the well-known mathematician
Poisson : (in 1825) of the fifth volume of the
'After the publication
Mecanique Celeste, Laplace became gradually weaker, and with it
musing and abstracted. He thought much on the great problems of
existence, and often muttered to himself, " Qtiest-ce que t^est que tout
cela I " After many alternations he appeared at last so permanently
prostrated that his family applied to his favourite pupil, M. Poisson,
to try to get a word from him. Poisson paid a visit, and after a few
words of salutation, bonne nouvelle i vous annoncer
said, "J'ai une :

on a refu an Bureau des Longitudes une lettre d'AUemagne annon9ant


que M. Bessel a verifie par I'observation vos decouvertes theoriques
sur les satellites de Jupiter." Laplace opened his eyes and answered
with deep gravity. " L'homme ne poursuit que des chimires." He never
spoke again. His death tonk place March 5, 1827.'
SWEDENBORG'S visions of other worlds. 115

that he is describing what has been told the Mercurial


spirits by the spirits of our earth, of whom (during these
spiritual conversations) he was one. But he proceeds to
describe how angels were allowed to converse with the
Mercurial spirits in order to convince them of their error.
'I saw another angel,' says he, after describing one such
conversation, '
conversing with them ; he appeared at some
altitude to the right ; he was from our earth, and he enu-
merated very many things of which they were ignorant. . . .

As they had been proud on account of their knowledges,


on hearing this they began to humble themselves. Their
humiliation was represented by the sinking of the company
which they formed, for that company then appeared as a
volume or roll, ... as if hollowed in the middle and
raised at the sides. . . . They were told what that signi-

fied, that what they thought in their humiliation, and


is,

that those who appeared elevated at the sides were not as

yet in any humiliation. Then I saw that the volume was


and that those who were not
separated, in humiliation were

remanded back towards their earth, the rest remaining.'

Little being known to Swedenborg, as indeed little is

known to the astronomers of our own time, about Mercury,


we find little in the visions relating to that planet which
possesses any scientific interest. He asked the inhabitants
who were brought to him in visions about the sun of the

system, and they replied that it looks larger from Mercury


than as seen from other worlds. This of course was no
news to Swedenborg. They explained further, that the in-

habitants enjoy a moderate temperature, without extremes


of heat or cold. was given to me,' proceeds Sweden-
'
It

borg, '
to tell it was so provided by the Lord, that
them that
they might not be exposed to excessive heat from their
greater proximity to the sun, since heat does not arise from
the sun's nearness, but from the height and density of the
Ii6 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
atmosphere, as appears from the cold on high mountains
even in hot climates ; also that heat is varied according to
the direct or oblique incidence of the sun's rays, as is plain
from the seasons of winter and summer in every region.'
It is curious to find thus advanced, in a sort of lecture
addressed to visionary Mercurials, a theory which crops up
repeatedly in the present day, because the difficulty which
suggests it is dealt with so unsatisfactorily for the most part
in our text-books of science. Continually we hear of some
new paradoxist who propounds as a novel doctrine the
teaching that the atmosphere, and not the sun, is the cause
of heat. The mistake was excusable in Swedenborg's time.
In fact it so chanced that, apart from the obvious fact on
which the mistake is usually based the continued pre-
sence, namely, of snow on the summits of high mountains
even in the torrid zone
it had been shown shortly before

by Newton, that the light fleecy clouds seen sometimes


even in the hottest weather above the wool-pack or cumu-
lus clouds are composed of minute crystals of ice. Seeing
that these tiny crystals can exist under the direct rays of
the sun in hot summer weather, many find it difiicult to
understand how those rays can of themselves have any
heating power. Yet in reality the reasoning addressed by
Swedenborg to his Mercurial friends was entirely erroneous.
If he could have adventured as far forth into time as he
did into space, and could have attended in the spirit the

lectures of one John Tyndall, a spirit of our earth, he would


have had this matter rightly explained to him. In reality
the sun's heat is as effective directly at the summit of the
highest mountain as at the sea-level. A thermometer ex-
posed to the sun in the former position indicates indeed a
slightly higher temperature than one similarly exposed to

the sun (when at the same altitude) at the sea-level. But


the air does not get warmed to the same degree, simply
SWEDUNBORG' S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 117

because, owing to its rarity and relative dryness, it fails to


retain any portion of the heat which passes through it

It is interesting to notice how Swedenborg's scientific

conceptions of the result of the (relatively) airless condition


of our moon suggested peculiar fancies respecting the lunar
inhabitants. Interesting, I mean, psychologically : for it

is curious to see scientific and fanciful conceptions thus un-


consciously intermingled. Of the conscious intermingling
of such conceptions instances are common enough. The
effects of the moon's airless condition have been often made
the subject of fanciful speculations. The reader will re-
member how Scheherazade, in The Poet at the Breakfast
'

Table,' runs on about the moon. Her delight was un-


'

bounded, and her curiosity insatiable. If there were any


living creatures there, what odd things they must be. They
couldn't have any lungs nor any hearts. What a pity!
Did they ever die ? How could they expire if they didn't
breathe? Burn up? No air to burn in. Tumble into
some of those horrid pits, perhaps, and break all to bits.
She wondered how the young people there liked it, or
whether there were any young people there. Perhaps
nobody was young and nobody was old, but they were like

mummies all of them what an idea two mummies !
making love to each other So she went on in a rattling,
1

giddy kind of way, for she was excited by the strange


scene in which she found herself, and quite astonished the
young astronomer with her vivacity.' But Swedenborg's
firm belief that the fancies engendered in his mind were
scientific reahties is very different from the conscious play
of fancy in the passage just quoted. It must be remem-
bered that Swedenborg regarded his visions with as much
confidence as though they were revelations made by means
of scientific instruments ; nay, with even more confidence, for

he knew that scientific observations may be misunderstood,


Ii8 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
whereas he was fully persuaded that his visions were mira-
culously provided for his enlightenment, and that therefore
he would not be allowed to misunderstand aught that was
thus revealed to him.
'
It is well known and angels,' he says, that
to spirits '

there are inhabitants in the moon, and in the moons or


satelUtes which revolve about Jupiter and Saturn. Even
those who have not seen and conversed with spirits who
are from them entertain no doubt of their being inhabited,
for they, too, are earths, and where there is an earth there

is man ; man being the end for which every earth exists,

and without an end nothing was made by the Great


Creator. Every one who thinks from reason in any degree
enlightened, must see that the human race is the final cause
of creation.'
The moon being inhabited then by human beings, but
being very insufficiently supplied with air, it necessarily
follows that these human beings must be provided in some
way with the means of existing in that rare and tenuous
atmosphere. Tremendous powers of inspiration and expi-
ration would be required to make that air support the life
of the human body. Although Swedenborg could have had
no knowledge of the exact way in which breathing supports
life (for Priestley was his junior by nearly half a century),

yet he must clearly have perceived that the quantity of


air inspired has much to do with the vitalising power of
the indraught. No ordinary human lungs could draw in
an adequate supply of air from such an atmosphere as the
moon's ; but by some great increase of breathing power it

might be possible to live there : at least, in Swedenborg's


time there was no reason for supposing otherwise. Reason,
then, having convinced him that the lunar inhabitants must
possess extraordinary breathing apparatus, and presumably
most powerful voices, imagination presented them to him
;

SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS, ug

accordingly. Some spirits appeared overhead,' he says,


'

'
and thence were heard voices like thunder ; for their
voices sounded precisely like thunder from the clouds after
lightning. I supposed it was a great multitude of spirits
who had the art of giving voices with such a sound. The
more simple spirits who were with me derided them, which
greatly surprised me. But the cause of their derision was
soon discovered, which was, that the spirits who thundered
were not many, but few, and were as little as children, and
that on former occasions they (the thunderers) had terrified
them by such sounds, and yet were unable to do them the
least harm. That I might know their character, some of
them descended from on high, where they thundered
and, what surprised me, one carried another on his back,
and the two thus approached me. Their faces appeared
not unhandsome, but longer than those of other spirits.

In stature they were like children of seven years old, but


the frame was more robust, so that they were like men. It

was told me
by the angels that they were from the moon.
He who was carried by the other came to me, applying
himself to my left side under the elbow, and thence spoke.
He said, that when they utter their voices they thunder in

this way,' and it seems likely enough that if there are any

living speaking beings in the moon, their voice, could they


visit the earth, would be found to differ very markedly

from the ordinary human voice. ' In the spiritual world


their thunderous voices have their use. For by their thun-

dering the spirits from the moon terrify spirits who are in-

clined to injure them, so that the lunar spirits go in safety


where they will To convince me the sound they make
was of this kind, he (the spirit who was carried by the
other) retired, but not out of sight, and thundered in like
manner. They showed, moreover, that the voice was
thundered by being uttered from the abdomen like an
;

120 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


eructation. It was perceived that this arose from the cir-

cumstance that the inhabitants of the moon do not, hke the


inhabitants of other earths, speak from the lungs, but from
the abdomen, and thus from air collected there, the reason
of which is that the atmosphere with which the moon is

surrounded is not like that of other earths.'


In his intercourse with spirits from Jupiter, Swedenborg
heard of animals larger than those that live on the earth.

It has been a favourite idea of many believers in other


worlds than ours, that though in each world the same races
of animals exist, they would be differently proportioned;
and there has been much speculation as to the probable
size of men and other animals in worlds much larger or
much smaller than the earth. When as yet ideas about

other worlds were crude, the idea prevailed that giants


exist in the larger orbs, and pygmies in the smaller.

Whether this idea had its origin in conceptions as to the


eternal fitness of things or not, does not clearly appear. It

seems certainly at first view natural enough to suppose that


the larger beings would want more room and so inhabit the
larger dweUing-places. It was a pleasing thought that, if
we could visit Jupiter or Saturn, we should find the human
inhabitants there

In bigness to surpass earth's giant sons

but that if we could visit our moon or Mercury, or what-


ever smaller worlds there are, we should find men
Now less than smallest dwarfs, in narrow room
Throng numberless, like that pygmssan race
Beyond the Indian mount ; or fairy elves,
Whose midnight revels, by a forest side
Or fountain, some belated peasant sees,
Or dreams he sees.

Later the theory was started that the size of beings in

various worlds depends on the amount of light received


SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 121

from the central sun. Thus Wolfius asserted that the in-
habitants of Jupiter are nearly fourteen feet high, which
he proved by comparing the quantity of sunlight which
reaches the Jovians with that which we Terrenes receive.
Recently, however, it has been noted that the larger the
planet, the smaller in all probability must be the inhabit-
ants, if any. For if there are two planets of the same
density but unequal size, gravity must be greater at the
surface of the larger planet, and where gravity is great
large animals are cumbered by their weight. It is easy to
see this by comparing the muscular strength of two men
similarly proportioned, but unequal in height Suppose
one man five feet in height, the other six ; then the cross
section of any given muscle will be less for the former

than for the latter in the proportion of twenty-five (five


times five) to thirty -six (six times six). Roughly, the
muscular strength of the bigger man will be half as great
again as that of the smaller. But the weights of the men
will be proportioned as 125 (five times five times five) to

216 (six times six times six), so that the weight of the
bigger man exceeds that of the smaller nearly as seven
exceeds four, or by three-fourths. The taller man exceeds
the smaller, then, much more in weight than he does
in strength ; he is accordingly less active in proportion to
his size. Within certain limits, of course, size increases a
man's effective as well as his real strengtL For instance,

our tall man in the preceding illustration cannot lift his

own weight as readily as the small man can lift his ; but
he can lift a weight of three hundred pounds as easily as
the small man can lift a weight of two hundred pounds.
When we get beyond certain limits of height, however, we
get absolute weakness as the result of the increase of
weight. Swift's Brobdingnags, for instance, would have
been unable to stand upright ; for they were six times as
;

122 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


tallas men, and therefore each Brobdingnag would have
weighed 216 times as much as a man, but would have
possessed only thirty-six times the muscular power. Their
weight would have been greater, then, in a sixfold greater
degree than their strength, and, so far as their mere weight
was concerned, their condition would have resembled that
of an ordinary man under a load five times exceeding his
own weight As no man could walk or stand upright
under such a load, so the Brobdingnags would have been
powerless to move, despite, or rather because of, their

enormous stature. Applying the general considerations


here enunciated to the question of the probable size of
creatures like ourselves in other planets, we see that men
in Jupiter should be much smaller, men in Mercury much
larger, than men on the earth. So also with other animals.
But Swedenborg's spirit visitors from these planets
taught differently. '
The horses of our earth,' he says,
'
when seen by the spirits of Jupiter, appeared to me smaller
than usual, though rather robust ; which arose from the idea
those spirits had respecting them. They informed me that
among them there are animals similar, though much larger
but that they are wild, and in the woods, and that when
they come in sight they cause terror though they are harm-
less ; they added that their terror of them is natural or
innate.'^ On the other hand the inhabitants of Mercury,
who might be thirteen feet high yet as active as our men,
appeared slenderer than Terrene men. '
I was desirous to
know,' says Swedenborg, '
what kind of face and person
the people in Mercury have, compared with those of the

1 The reason assigned by Swedenborg is fanciful enough. '


In the
spiritual sense, ' he says, ' a horse signifies the intellectual principle
formed from scientifics, and as they are afraid of cultivating the in-
tellectual faculties by worldly sciences, from this comes an influx of
fear. They care nothing for scientifics which are of human erudition.'
;

SWEDENBORG"S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 123

people on our earth. There therefore stood before me a


female exactly resembling the women on that earth. Her
face was beautiful, but it was smaller than that of a woman
of our earth ; she was more slender, but of equal height
she wore a linen head-dress, not artfully yet gracefully
disposed. A man also was presented. He, too, was more
slender than the men of our earth ; he wore a garment of
deep blue, closely fitted to his body without folds or flowing
skirts. Such, I learn, were the personal form and costume
of the humans of that earth. Afterwards there was shown
me a species of the oxen and cows, which did not indeed
differ much from those on our earth, except that they were
smaller, and made some approach to the stag and hind
species.' We have seen, too, that the lunar spirits were no
larger than children seven years old.

One passage of Swedenborg's description of Jupiter is

curious. '
Although on that earth,' he says, '
spirits speak
with men ' (i.e. with Jovian men) '
man in his turn does
not speak with spirits, except to say, when instructed, that

he will do so no more,' ^which we should regard as a bull


if it were not news from the Jovian spirit world. '
Nor is

man allowed any one that a spirit has spoken to him;


to tell
if he does so, he is punished. Those spirits of Jupiter when
they were with me, at first supposed they were with a man
of their own earth ; but when in my turn I spoke with
them, and thought of publishing what passed between us
and so relating it to others, then, because they were not
allowed to chastise me, they discovered they were with a
stranger.'

It has been a favourite idea with those who delight in

the argument from design, that the moons of the remoter


planets have been provided for the express purpose of
making up for the small amount of sunlight which reaches

those planets. Jupiter receives only about one twenty-


;

124 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


seventh part of the light which we receive from the sun
but then, has he not four moons tomake his nights glorious?
Saturn is yet farther away from the sun, and receives only
the ninetieth part of the light we get from the sun ; but
then he has eight moons and his rings, and the nocturnal
glory of his skies must go far to compensate the Saturnians
for the small quantity of sunlight they receive. The
Satumian spirits who
Swedenborg were manifestly
visited

indoctrinated with these ideas. For they informed him


that the nocturnal light of Saturn is so great that some
Saturnians worship it, caUing it the Lord. These wicked
spirits are separated from the rest, and are not tolerated by

them. The nocturnal light,' say the spirits, comes from


' '

the immense ring which at a distance encircles that earth,


and from the moons which are called the satellites of

Saturn.' And again, being questioned further '


concerning
the great ring which appears from our earth to rise above
the horizon of that planet, and to vary its situations, they
said that it does not appear to them as a ring, but only as
a snow-white substance in heaven in various directions.'
Unfortunately for our faith in the veracity of these spirits,

it is certain that the moons of Saturn cannot give nearly so


much light as ours, while the rings are much more effective
as darkeners than as illuminators. One can readily calcu-
late the apparent size of each of the moons as seen from
Saturn, and thence show that the eight discs of the moons
together are larger than our moon's disc in about the
proportion of forty-five to eight. So that if they were all

shining as brightly as our full moon and all full at the same
combined light would exceed hers
time, their in that degree.
But they are not illuminated as our moon is. They are
illuminated by the same remote sun which illuminates
Saturn, while our moon is illuminated by a sun giving her
as much light as we ourselves receive. Our moon then is
;

SWEDENBORG" S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 125

illuminated ninety times more brightly than the moons of


Saturn, and as her disc is less than all theirs together, not
as one to ninety, but as sixteen to ninety, it follows that all
the Saturnian moons, if full at the same time, would reflect
to Saturn one-sixteenth part of the light which we receive
from the full moon.' As regards the rings of Saturn, no-
thing can be more certain than that they tend much more
to deprive Saturn of light then to make up by reflection for

' Similar reasoning applies to the moons of Jnpiter, and it so


chances that the result in their case comes out exactly the same as in
the case of Saturn ; all the Jovian moons, if full together, would reflect
only the sixteenth part of the light which we receive from the full moon.
It is strange that scientific men of considerable mathematical power
have used the argument from design apparently supplied by the satel-

lites, without being at the pains to by the simple mathe-


test its validity

matical calculations necessary to determine the quantity of light which


these bodies can reflect to the planets round which they travel.
Brewster and Whewell, though they took opposite sides in the contro-
versy about other inhabited worlds, agreed in this. Brewster, of

course, holding the theory that all the planets are inhabited, very
naturally accepted the argument from design in this case. Whewell,
in opposing that theory, did not dwell at all upon the subjects of the

satellites. But in his Bridgewater Treatise on Astronomy and


'

' Taking only the ascertained cases of Venus,


General Physics,' he says,
the Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, we conceive that a person of common
understanding will be strongly impressed with the persuasion that the
satellites are placed in the system with a view to compensate for the
diminished light of the sun at greater distances. Mars is an exception
some persons might conjecture from this case that the arrangement it-

self, like other useful arrangements, has been brought about by some
wider law which we have not yet detected. But whether or not wt
entertain such a guess (it can be nothing more), we see in other parts

of creation so many examples of apparent exceptions to rules, which


are afterwards found to be capable of explanation, or to be provided
for by particular contrivances, that no one familiar with such contem-
plations vrill, by one anomaly, be driven from the persuasion that the
end which the arrangements of the satellites seem suited to answer is
really one of the ends of their creation.'
126 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY
the small amount of light which Saturn receives directly
from the sun. The part of the ring which lies between the
planetand the sun casts a black shadow upon Saturn, this
shadow sometimes covering an extent of surface many times
exceeding the entire surface of our earth. The shadow thus
thrown upon the planet creeps slowly,first one way, then

another, northwards and southwards over the illuminated


hemisphere of the planet (as pictured in the 13th plate of

my treatiseon Saturn), requiring for its passage from the


arctic to the antarctic regions and back again to the arctic
regions of the planet, a period nearly equal to that of a
generation of terrestrial men. Nearly thirty of our years
the process lasts, during half of which time the northern
hemisphere suffers, and during the other half the southern.
The shadow band, which be it remembered stretches right

athwart the planet from the extreme eastern to the extreme


western side of the illuminated hemisphere, is so broad
during the greater part of the time that in some regions
(those corresponding to our temperate zones) the shadow
takes two years in passing, during which time the sun can-
not be seen at all, unless for a few moments through some
chinks in the rings, which are known to be not solid bodies,
but made up of closely crowded small moons. And the
slow passage of this fearful shadow, which advances at the
average rate of some twenty miles a day, but yet hangs for
years over the regions athwart which it sweeps, occurs in
the very season when the sun's small direct supply of heat
would require to be most freely compensated by nocturnal
light in the winter season, namely, of the planet. More-
over, not only during the time of the shadow's passage, but
during the entire winter half of the Saturnian year, the ring
reflects no light during the night time, the sun being on the
other or summer side of the ring's plane. ^
.
The only noc-
' The reader who cares enough about such subjects to take the
SWEDENBORG" S VISIONS Of OTHpR WORLDS. 127

turnal effect which would be observable would be the oblitera-


tion of the stars covered by the ring system. It is strange

that, this being so, the spirits from Saturn should have made

necessary trouble, can easily make a little model of Saturn and his
ring system, which will very prettily illustrate the effect of the rings
both in reflecting light to the planet's darkened hemisphere and in cut-
ting off light from the planet's illuminated hemisphere. Take a ball,
say an ordinary hand-ball, and pierce it through the centre with a fine

knitting-needle. Cut out a flat ring of card, proportioned to the ball


as the ring system of Saturn to his ball. two inches in
(If the ball is
diameter, strike out on a sheet of cardboard two concentric circles, one
of them with a radius of a little more than an inch and a half, the other
with a radius of about two inches and three-eights, and cut out the ring
between these two circles.) Thrust the knitting-needle through this
ring in such a way that the ball shall lie in the middle of the ring, as
the globe of Saturn hangs (without knitting-needle connections) in the
middle of his ring system. Thrust another knitting-needle centrally
through the ball square to the plane of the ring, and use this second
needle, which we may call the polar one, as a handle. Now take
the balland ring into sunlight, or the light of a lamp or candle, hold-
ing them so that the shadow of the ring is as thin as possible. This
represents the position of the shadow at the time of Saturnian spring
or autumn. Cause the shadow slowly to shift until it surrounds the
part of the ball through which the polar needle passes on one side.
This will represent the position of the shadow at the time of mid-
winter for the hemisphere corresponding to that side of the ball.

Notice that while the shadow is traversing this half of the ball, the
side of the ring which lies towards that half is in shadow, so that a
fly or other small insect on that half of the ball would see the darkened
side of the ring. A Saturnian correspondingly placed would get no
reflected sunlight from the ring system. Move the ball and ring so
that the shadow slowly returns to its first position. You will then

have illustrated the changes taking place during one half of a Saturnian
year. Continue the motion so that the shadow passes to the other
half of the ball, and finally surrounds the other point through which
the polar needle passes. The polar point which the shadow before
surrounded will now be seen to be in the light, and this half of the
ball will illustrate the hemisphere of Saturn where it is midsummer.
It will also be seen that the side of the ring towards this half of the
128 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
no mention of the circumstance and even more strange thai;

these spirits and others should have asserted that the moons
and rings of Saturn compensate for the small amount of
light directly received from the sun. Most certainly a
Swedenborg of our own time would find the spirits from
Saturn more veracious and more communicative about
these matters, though even what he would hear from the
spirits would doubtless appear to sceptics of the twenty-first

century to be no more than he could have inferred from


the known facts of the science of his day.
But Swedenborg was not content merely to receive visits
from the inhabitants of other planets in the solar system.
He was visited also by the spirits of earths in the starry
heaven ; nay, he was enabled to visit those earths himself.
For man, even while living in the world, '
is a spirit as to

his interiors, the body which he carries about in the world


only serving him for performing functions in this natural or
terrestrial sphere, which is the lowest.' And to certain
men it is granted not only to converse as a spirit with
angels and but to traverse in a spiritual way the
spirits,

vast distances which separate world from world and system


from system, all the while remaining in the body. Sweden-
borg was one of these. '
The interiors of my spirit,' he
says, '
are opened by the Lord, so that while I am in the
body I can at the same time be with angels in heaven, and
not only converse with them, but behold the wonderful
things which are there and describe them, that henceforth
it may no more be said, "Who ever came from heaven to
ball is now in tlie light, so that a small insect on this half of the ball
would see the bright side of the ring. A Satumian correspondingly
placed would get reflected sunlight, from the ring system both hy day
and by night. Moving the ball and ring so that the shadow returns to
its first an entire Saturnian year will have been illustrated.
position,
These changes can be still better shown with a Satumian orrery (see
plate viii. of my Saturn), which can be very easily constructed.
;

SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 125

assuie usit exists and tell us what is


there?" He who is
unacquainted with the arcana of heaven cannot believe that
man can see earths so remote, and give any account of
them from sensible experience. But let him know that
spaces and distances, and consequently progressions, exist-
ing in the natural world, in their origin and first causes are
changes of the state of the interiors ; that with angels and
spirits progressions appear according to changes of state;
and that by changes of state they may be apparently trans-
lated from one place to another, and from one earth to
another, even to earths at the boundaries of the universe
so likewise may man as to his spirit, his body still remain-
ing in its place. This has been the case with me.'
Before describing his visits to earths in the starry heavens,
Swedenborg is careful to indicate the probability that such
earths exist. '
It is well known to the learned world,' he
says, ' that every star is a sun in its place, remaining fixed
like the sun of our earth.' The proper motions of the stars
had, alas ! not been discovered in Swedenborg's day, nor
does he seem to have been aware what a wild chase he was
really entering upon in his spiritual progressions. Conceive
the pursuit of Sirius or Vega as either sun rushed through
space with a velocity of thirty or forty miles in every
second of time ! To resume, however, the account which
Swedenborg gives of the ideas of the learned world of his
day. It is the distance which makes a star appear in a
'

small form; consequently' (the logical necessity is not


manifest, however) '
each star, like the sun of our system,
has around it planets which are earths ; and the reason
these are not visible to us is because of their immense
distance and their having no light but from their own star,

which light cannot be reflected so far as to reach us.' '


To
what other end,' proceeds this most convincing reasoning,
'can be so immense a heaven with such a multitude of
no MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY
Stars? For man is the end for which the universe was
created. It has been ascertained by calculation that sup-
posing ther? were in the universe a million earths, and on
every earth three hundred millions of men and two hundred
generations within six thousand years, and that to every man
or spirit was allotted a space of three cubic ells, the collec-
tive number of men or spirits could not occupy a space
equal to a thousandth part of this earth, thus not more
than that occupied by one of the satellites of Jupiter or
Saturn ; a space on the universe almost undiscernible, for a
satellite is hardly visible to the naked eye. What would
this be for the Creator of the universe, to whom the whole
universe filled with enough (for
earths could not be '

what ?), seeing that he is infinite.'


'
However, it is not on
this reasoning alone that Swedenborg relies. He tells us,
honestly beyond all doubt, that he knows the truth of what
he relates. '
The information I am about to give,' he says,
'respecting the earths in the starry heaven is from experi-
mental testimony ; from which it will likewise appear how
I was translated thither as to my spirit, the body remaining
in its place.'

His progress in his first star-hunt was to the right, and


continued for about two hours. He found the boundary
of our solar system marked first by a white but thick cloud,
next by a fiery smoke ascending from a great chasm.
Here
some guards appeared, who stopped some of the company,
because these had not, like Swedenborg and the rest,
received permission to pass. They not only stopped those
unfortunates, but tortured them, conduct for which terres-
trial analogues might possibly be discovered.
Having reached another system, he asked the spirits ol
one of the earths there how large their sun was and how it
appeared. They said it was less than the sun of our earth,
and has a flaming appearance. Our sun, in fact, is larger
SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 131

than other suns in space, for from that earth starry heavens
axe seen,and a star larger than the rest appears, which, say
those was declared from heaven to be the sun of
spirits, '
'

Swedenborg's earthly home.


What Swedenborg saw upon that earth has no special
interest. The men there, though haughty, are loved by
their respective wives because they, the men, are good.
But their goodness does not appear very manifest from
The only man seen by Sweden-
anything in the narrative.
borg took from his wife '
the garment which she wore, and
threw it own
over his shoulders ; loosening the lower part,
which flowed down to his feet like a robe (much as a man
of our earth might be expected to loosen the tie-back of
the period, if he borrowed it in like manner) he thus walked
about clad.'

He next visited an earth circling round a star, which


he learned was one of the smaller sort, not far from the
equator. Its greater distance was plain from the circum-

stance that Swedenborg was two days in reaching it. In


this earth he very nearly fell into a quarrel with the spirits.
For hearing that they possess remarkable keenness of vision,
he compared them with eagles which fly aloft, and enjoy
'

a clear and extensive view of objects beneath.' At this


they were indignant, supposing,' poor spirits, that he com- '

pared them to eagles as to their rapacity, and consequently


thought them wicked.' He hastened to explain, however,
that he '
did not liken them to eagles as to their rapacity,

but as to sharpsightedness.'
Swedenborg's account of a third earth in the star-depths
contains a very pretty idea for temples and churches. The
temples in that earth '
are constructed,' he says, of trees,

not cut down, but growing in the place where they were
first planted. On that earth, it seems, there are trees of an

extraordinary size and height ; these they set in rows when


132 yiYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
young, and arrange in such an order that they may serve
when they grow up to form porticoes and colonnades. In
the meanwhile, by cutting and pruning, they fit and pre-

pare the tender shoots to entwine one with another, and


join together so as to form the groundwork and floor of the

temple to be constructed, and to rise at the sides as walls,


and above to bend into arches to form the roof In this
manner they construct the temple with admirable art,
elevating it high above the ground. They prepare also an
ascent into it, by continuous branches of the trees, extended
from the trunk and firmly connected together. Moreover,
they adorn the temple without and within in various ways,
by disposing the foliage into particular forms; thus they
build entire groves. But it was not permitted me to see
the nature of these temples, only I was informed that the
light of their sun is let in by apertures amongst the branches,
and is everywhere transmitted through crystals ; whereby
the light falling on the walls is refracted in colours like
those of the rainbow, particularly blue and orange, of which
they are fondest. Such is their architecture, which they
prefer to the most magnificent palaces of our earth.'
Other earths in the starry heavens were visited by
Swedenborg, but the above will serve sufficiently to illus-

trate the nature of his observations. One statement, by


the way, was made to him which must have seemed unlikely
ever to be contravened, but which has been shown in our
time to be altogether erroneous. In the fourth star-world
he visited, he was told that that earth, which travels round
its sun in 200 days of fifteen hours each, is one of the least
in the universe, being scarcely 500 German miles, say 2000
English miles, in circumference. This would make its
diameter about 640 Enghsh miles. But there is not one of
the whole family of planetoids which has a diameter so
great as this, and many of these earths must be less, than
SWEDENBORG'S VISIONS OF OTHER WORLDS. 133

fifty miles in diameter. Now Swedenborg remarks that he


had his information from the angels, 'who made a com-
parison in all these particulars with things of a like nature
on our earth, according to what they saw in me or in my
memory. Their conclusions were formed by angelic ideas,
whereby are instantly known the measure of space and time
in a just proportion with respect to space and time else-

where. Angelic ideas, which are spiritual, in such calcu-


lations infinitely excel human ideas, which are natural.'

He must therefore have met, unfortunately, with untruthful


angels.

The real source of Swedenborg's inspirations will be


tolerably obvious to all, at least, who are not Swedenbor-
gians. But our account of his visions would not be com-
plete in a psychological sense without a brief reference to
the personal allusions which the spirits and angels made
during their visits or his wanderings. His distinguished
rival. Christian Wolf, was encountered as a spirit by spirits
from Mercury, who '
perceived that what he said did not
riseabove the sensual things of the natural man, because in
speaking he thought of honour, and was desirous, as in the
world (for in the other world every one is like his former
self), to connect various things into series, and from these
again continually to deduce others, and so form several

chains of such, which they did not see or acknowledge to


be true, and which, therefore, they declared to be chains
which neither cohered in themselves nor with the conclu-
sions, calling them the obscurity of authority;' so they
ceased to question him further, and presently left him.
Similarly, a spirit who in this world had been a prelate '

and a preacher,' and very pathetic, so that he could deeply


'

move his hearers,' got no hearing among the spirits of a


certain earth in the starry heavens ; for they said they could

tell '
from the tone of the voice whether a discourse came
;

134 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


from the heart or not ;' and as his discourse came not from
the heart, '
he was unable to teach them, whereupon he
was silent.' Convenient thus to have spirits and angels to

confirm our impressions of other men, Hving or dead.


Apart from the psychological interest attaching to

Swedenborg's strange vision, one cannot but be strongly


impressed by the idea pervading them, that to beings
suitably constituted all that takes place in other worlds
might be known. Modem science recognises a truth here
for in that mysterious ether which occupies all space,
messages are at all times travelling by which the history
of every orb is constantly recorded. No world, however
remote or insignificant ; no period, however distant but
has its history thus continually proclaimed in ever widen-
ing waves. Nay, by these waves also (to beings who could
read their teachings aright) the future is constantly indi-
cated. For, as the waves which permeate the ether could
only be situated as they actually are, at any moment,
through past processes, each one of which is consequently
indicated by those ethereal waves, so also there can be but
one series of events in the future, as the sequel of the rela-

tions actually indicated by the ethereal undulations. These,


therefore, speak as definitely and distinctly of the future as
of the past. Could we but rid us of the gross habiliments
of flesh, and by some new senses be enabled to feel each
order of ethereal undulations, even of those only which
reach our earth, all knowledge of the past and future would
be within our power. The consciousness of this underlies
the fancies of Swedenborg, just as it underlies the thought
of him who sang
There's not an orb which thou behold'st
But in his motion Uke an angel sings,
Still quiring to the young-eyed cherubim.
But while this muddy vesture of decay
Doth grossly close us in, we cannot h^ar it.
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 135

OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES.


If any one shall gravely tell me that I have spent my time idly in a
vain and fruitless inquiry after what I can never become sure of, the
answer is that at this rate he would put down all natural philosophy,
as far as it concerns itself in searching into the nature of such things.
In such noble and sublime studies as these, 'tis a glory to arrive at
probability, and the search itself rewards the pains. But there are
many degrees of probable, some nearer to the truth than others, in the
determining of which lies the chief exercise of our judgment. And
besides the nobleness and pleasure of the studies, may we not be so
bold as to say that they are no small help to the advancement of wis-
dom and morality ? HuYGHENS, Conjectures concerning the Planetary
Worlds.

The interest with which astronomy is studied by many who


care Httle or nothing for other sciences is due chiefly to the

thoughts which the celestial bodies suggest respecting life

in other worlds than ours. There is no feeling more deeply


seated in the human heart not the belief in higher than
human powers, not the hope of immortality, not even the
fear of death than the faith in realms of life where other
conditions are experienced than those we are acquainted

with here. It is not vulgar curiosity or idle fancy that sug-


gests the possibilities of life in other worlds. It has been

the conviction of the profoundest thinkers, of men of

highest imagination. The mystery of the star-depths has


had its charm for the mathematician as well as for the
136 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
poet ; for the exact observer as for the most fruitfiil theo-

riser ; nay, for the man of business as for him whose life is

passed in communing with nature. If we analyse the

interest with which the generality of men inquire into astro-


nomical matters apparently not connected with the question
of life m other worlds, we find in every case that it has
been out of this question alone or chiefly that that interest
has sprung. The great discoveries made during the last

few years respecting the sun for example, might seeni


remote from the subject of life in other worlds. It is true

that Sir William Herschel thought the sun might be the


abode of living creatures ; and Sir John Herschel even
suggested the possibility that the vast streaks of light called
the solar willow-leaves, objects varying from two hundred
to a thousand miles in length, might be living creatures

whose intense lustre was the measure of their intense


vitality. But modern discoveries had rendered all such
theories untenable. The sun is presented to us as a
mighty furnace, in whose fires the most stubborn elements
are not merely melted but vaporised. The material of the
sun has been analysed, the motions and changes taking
place on his surface examined, the laws of his being deter-
mined. How, it might be asked, is the question of life in

other worlds involved in these researches ? The faith of


Sir David Brewster in the sun as the abode of life being
dispelled, how could discoveries respecting the sun interest
those who care about the subject of the plurality of worlds ?
The answer to these questions is easily found. The real
interest which solar researches have possessed for those who
are not astronomers has resided in the evidence afforded
respecting the sun's position as the fire, light, and life of
the system of worlds whereof our world is one. The mere
facts discovered respecting the sun would be regarded as
so much dry detail were they not brought directly into
OTffEJi WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 137

delation with our earth and its wants, and therefore with
the wants of the other earths which circle round the sun ;

but when thus dealt with they immediately excite attention


and interest. I do not speak at random in asserting this,
but describe the result of widely ranging observation. I

have addressed hundreds of audiences in Great Britain and


America on the subject of recent solar discoveries, and I

have conversed with many hundreds of persons of various


capacity and education, from men almost, uncultured to
men of the highest intellectual power ; and my invariable
experience has been that solar research derives its chief
interest when viewed in relation to the sun's position as the

mighty ruler, the steadfast sustainer, the beneficent almoner


of the system of worlds to which our earth belongs. It is

the same with other astronomical subjects. Few care for


the record of lunar observations, save in relation to the
question whether the moon is or has been the abode of
living creatures. The movements of comets and meteors,
and the discoveries recently made respecting their condi-
tion, have no interest except in relation to the position of

these bodies in the economy of solar systems, or to the

possible part which they may at one time have performed


in building up worlds and suns. None save astronomers,
and few only of these, care for researches into the star-

depths, except in connection with the thought that every


star isa sun and therefore probably the light and fire of
a system of worlds like those which circle around our own
sun.

It is singular how variously this question of life in other

worlds has been viewed at various stages of astronomical


progress. From the time of Pythagoras, who first, so far
as is known, propounded the general theory of the plurality

of worlds,down to our own time, when Brewster and


Chalmers on the one hand, and Whewell on the other, have
13S MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
advocated rival theories probably to be both set aside for a

theory at once intermediate to and more widely ranging in


time and space than either, the aspect of the subject has
constantly varied, as new lights have been thrown upon it

from different directions. It may be interesting briefly to


consider what has been thought in the past on this strangely
attractive question, and then to indicate the view towards
which modern discoveries seem manifestly to point a view
not likely to undergo other change than that resulting from
clearer vision and closer approach. In other words, I shall

endeavour to show that the theory to which we are now


led by all the known facts is correct in general, though, as

fresh knowledge is obtained, it may undergo modification


in details. We now see the subject from the right point
of view, though as science progresses we may come to see
it more clearly and definedly.
When men believed the earth to be a flat surface above
which the heavens were arched as a tent or canopy, they
were not likely to entertain the belief in other worlds than
ours. During the of mankind ideas such as
earlier ages

these prevailed. The


had been fashioned into its
earth
present form and condition, the heavens had been spread
over it, the sun, and moon, and stars had been set in the
heavens for its use and adornment, and there was no thought
of any other world.
But while this was the general belief, there was already
a school of philosophy where another doctrine had been
taught Pythagoras had adopted the belief of ApoUonius
Pergaeus that the sun is the centre of the planetary paths,
the earth one among the planets a belief inseparable from
the doctrine of the plurality of worlds. Much argument
has been advanced to show that
was this belief never
adopted before the time of Copernicus, and unquestionably
it must be admitted that the theory was not presented in

OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 139

the clear and simple form to which we have become


accustomed. But it is not necessary to weigh the con-
flicting arguments for and against the opinion that Pytha-

goras and others regarded the earth as not the fixed centre
of the universe. The certain fact that the doctrine of the
plurality of worlds was entertained
(I do not say adopted)

by them, proves sufficiently that they cannot have believed


the earth to be fixed and central. The idea of other worlds
like our earth is manifestly inconsistent with the belief that
the earth is the central body around which the whole
universe revolves.
That this is so is well illustrated by the fate of the
unfortunate Giordano Bruno. He was one of the first
disciples of Copernicus, and, having accepted the doctrine
that the earth travels round the sun as one among his
family of planets, was led very naturally to the belief that
the other planets are inhabited. He went farther, and
maintained that as the earth is not the only inhabited
world in the solar system, so the sun is not the only centre
of a system of inhabited worlds, but each star a sun like
him, about which many planets revolve. This was one of
the many heresies for which Bruno was burned at the stake.
It is easy, also, to recognise in the doctrine of many worlds
as the natural sequel of the Copernican theory, rather than
in the features of this theory itself, the cause of the hostihty
with which theologians regarded it, until, finding it proved,
they discovered that it is directly taught in the books
which they interpret for us so variously. The Copernican
theory was not rejected was even countenanced
nay, it

until this particular consequence of the theory was recog-


nised. But within a few years from the persecution of

Bruno, GaUleo was imprisoned, and the last years of his


life made miserable, because it had become clear that in

setting the earth adrift from its position as centre of the


;

140 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.


universe, he and his brother Copernicans were sanctioning
the belief in other worlds than ours. Again and again, in

the attacks made by clericals and theologians upon the


Copernican theory, this lamentable consequence was in-

sisted upon. Unconscious that they were advancing the


most damaging argument which could be conceived for the

cause they had at heart, they maintained, honestly but


unfortunately, that with the new theory came the manifest
inference that our earth is not the only and by no means
the most important world in the universe^ a doctrine
manifestly inconsistent (so they said) with the teachings of
the Scriptures.
It was naturally only by a slow progression that men
were able to advance into the domain spread before them
by the Copernican theory, and to recognise the real minute-
ness of the earth both in space and time. They more
quickly recognised the earth's insignificance in space,
because the new theory absolutely forced this fact upon
them. If the earth, whose globe they knew to be minute
compared with her distance from the sun, is really circling

around the sun in a mighty orbit many millions of miles in


diameter, it follows of necessity that the fixed stars must
lie so far away that even the span of the earth's orbit is

reduced to nothing by comparison with the vast depths


beyond which lie even the nearest of those suns. This
was Tyclio Brahe's famous and perfectly sound argument
against the Copernican theory. '
The stars remain fixed in

apparent position all the time, yet the Copernicans tell us


that the earth from which we view the stars is circling
once a year an orbit many millions of miles in diameter
in

how is it that from so widely ranging a point of view we


do not see widely different celestial scenery ? Who can
believe that the stars are so remote that by comparison the
span of the earth's path is a mere point?' Tycho's argu-
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 141

ment was of course valid.' Of two things one. Either the


earth does not travel round the sun, or the stars are much
farther away than men had conceived possible in 'I'ycho's
time. His mistake lay in rejecting the correct conclusion
because simply it made the visible universe seem many
millions of times vaster than he had supposed. Yet the
universe, even as thus enlarged, was but a point to the
universe visible in our day, which in turn will dwindle to a
point compared with the universe as men will see it a few
centuries hence ; while that or the utmost range of space
over which men can ever extend their survey is doubtless
as nothing to the real universe of occupied space.
Such has been the progression of our ideas as to the
position of the earth in space. Forced by the discoveries
of Copernicus to regard our earth as a mere point compared
with the distances of the nearest fixed stars, men gradually
learned to recognise those distances which at first had
seemed infinite as in their turn evanescent even by com-
parison with that mere point of space over which man is

able by instrumental means to extend his survey.

Though there has been a similar progression in men's


ideas as to the earth's position in time, that progression
has not been carried to a corresponding extent. Men have
not been so bold in widening their conceptions of time as
in widening their conceptions of space. It is here and thus
that, in my judgment, the subject of life in other worlds has

been hitherto inconectly dealt with. Men have given up


as utterly idle the idea that the existence of worlds is to be
1 Not 'of course' because Tycho used it, for, like other able students

of scieBce, he made mistakes from time to time. Thus he argued that

the earth cannot rotate on her axis, because if she did bodies raised
above her surface would be left behind an argument which even the
mechanical knowledge of his o^u time should have sufficed to invali-
date, though it is still used from time to time by paradoxers of oui
own day.
142 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
limited to the special domain of space to which our eartli

belongs ; but they are content to retain the conception that


the domain of time to which our earth's history belongs,
'
thisbank and shoal of time on which the life of the earth
'

is cast, is the period to which the existence of other worlds


than ours should be referred.
This, which is to be noticed in nearly all our ordinary
treatises on astronomy, appears as a characteristic peculiarity
of works advocating the theory of the plurality of worlds.
Brewster and Dick and Chalmers, all in fact who have
taken that doctrine under their special protection, reason
respecting other worlds as though, if they failed to prove
that other orbs are inhabited now, or are at least iww
supporting some way or other, they failed of their
life in

purpose altogether. The idea does not seem to have


occurred to them that there is room and verge enough in
eternity of time not only for activity but for rest. They
must have all the orbs of space busy at once in the one
work which they seem able to conceive as the possible
purpose of those bodies the support of life. The argu-
ment from analogy, which they had found effective in estab-
lishing the general theory of the plurality of worlds, is for-

gotten when its application to details would suggest that not


all orbs are at all times either the abode of life or in some
way subserving the purposes of life.
We find, in all the forms of life with which we are
acquainted, three characteristic periods first the time of
preparation for the purposes of Ufe ; next, the time of fitness
for those purposes; and thirdly, the time of decadence tending
gradually to death. We see among all objects which exist
in numbers, examples of all these stages existing at the same
time. In every race of living creatures there are the young
as yet unfit for work, the workers, and those past work ; in
every forest there are saplings, seed-bearing trees, and treea
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 143

long past the seed-bearing period We know that planets,


or rather, speaking more generally, the orbs which people
space, pass through various stages of development, during
some only of which they can reasonably be regarded as the
abode of life or supporting life yet the eager champion of
;

the theory of many worlds will have them all in these life-
bearing or life-supporting stages, none in any of the stages
of preparation, none in any of the stages of decrepitude or
death.
This has probably had its origin in no small degree
from the disfavour with which in former years the theory
of the growth and development of planets and systems of
planets was regarded. Until the evidence became too
strong to be resisted, the doctrine that our earth was once
a baby world, with many millions of years to pass through
before it could be the abode of life, was one which only the
professed atheist (so said too many divines) could for a
moment entertain ; while the doctrine that not the earth
alone, but the whole of the solar system, had developed
from a condition utterly unlike that through which it is now
passing, could have had its origin only in the suggestions
of the Evil One. Both doctrines were pronounced to be so
manifestly opposed to the teachings of Moses, and not only
so, but so manifestly inconsistent with the belief in a

Supreme Being, that that further argument was unneces-


sar>-, and denunciation only was required. So confident
were divines on these points, that it would not have been
very wonderful if some few students of science had mistaken
assertion for proof, and so concluded that the doctrines

towards which science was unmistakably leading them


really were inconsistent with what they had been taught to
regard as the Word of God. Whether multiplied experi-

ences taught men of science to wait before thus deciding,


or however matters fell out, it certainly befell before very
144 MYTffS AND MA J! VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
long that the terrible doctrine of cosmical development was
supported by such powerful evidence, astronomical and
terrestrial, as to appear wholly irresistible. Then, not only
was the doctrine accepted by divines, but shown to be
manifestly implied in the sacred narrative of the formation
of the earthand heavens, sun, and moon, and stars while ;

upon those unfortunate students of science who had not


changed front in good time, and were found still arguing
on the mistaken assumption that the development of our
system was not accordant with that ancient narrative,
freshly forged bolts were flung from the Olympus of
orthodoxy.
So far as the other argument from the inconsistency
of the development theory with belief in a Supreme Being
was concerned, the student of science was independent
of the interpretations which divines claim the sole right of
assigning to the ancient books. Science has done so much
more than divinity (which in fact has done nothing) to
widen our conceptions of space and time, that she may
justly claim full right to deal with any difficulties arising

from such enlargement of our ideas. With the theological


would not care to deal at all, were she not
difficulty science

urged to do so by the denunciations of divines ; and when,


so urged, she touches that difficulty, she is quickly told that
the difficulty is insuperable, and not long after that it has
no existence, and (on both accounts) that it should have
been left alone. But with the difficulty arising from the
widening of our ideas respecting space and time, science
may claim good, almost sole, right to deal The path to a
solution of the problem is not difficult to find. At a first

view, it does seem to those whose vision had been limited


to a contracted field, that the wide domain of time and
space in which processes of development are found to take
place is the universe itself, that to deny the formation of
;

OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. (45

our earth by a special creative act is to deny the existence


of a Creator, that to regard the beginning of our earth as a
process of development is to assert that development has
been in operation from the beginning of all things. But
when we recognise clearly that vastness and minuteness,
prolonged and brief duration, are merely relative, we per
ceive that in considering our earth's history we have to deal
only with small parts of space and brief periods of time, by
comparison withall space and all time. Our earth is very
largecompared with a tree or an animal, but very small
compared with the solar system, a mere point compared
with the system of stars to which the sun belongs, and
absolutely as nothing compared with the universe of space
and in like manner, while the periods of her growth and
development occupy periods very long-lasting compared with
those required for the growth and development of a tree or
an animal, they are doubtless but brief compared with the
eras of the development of our solar system, a mere instant
compared with the eras of the development of star-systems,
and absolutely evanescent compared with eternity. We
have no more reason for rejecting the belief in a Creator
because our earth or the solar system is found to have
developed to its present condition from an embryonic
primordial state, than we have had ever since men first

found that animals and trees are developed from the germ.
The region of development is larger, the period of develop-

ment lasts longer, but neither the one nor the other is

infinite and being finite, both one and the other are simply
;

nothing by comparison with infinity. It is a startling

thought, doubtless, that periods of time compared with


which the life of a man, the existence of a nation, nay, the
duration of the human race itself, sink into insignificance,
should themselves in turn be dwarfed into nothingness by
comparison with periods of a still higher order. But the
!

146 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


thought is not more startling than that other thought which


we have been compelled to admit the thought that the
earth on which we live, and the solar system to which it
belongs, though each so vast that all known material objects
are as nothing by comparison, are in turn as nothing com-
pared with the depths of space separating us from even the
nearest among the fixed stars. One thought, as 1 have
said, we have been compelled to admit, the other has not
as yet been absolutely forced upon us. Though men have
long since given up the idea that the earth and heavens
have endured but a few thousand years, it is still possible
to believe that the birth of our solar system, whether by
creative act or by the beginning of processes of development,
belongs to the beginning of all time. But this view cannot
be regarded as even probable. Although it has never been
proved that any definite relation must subsist between time
(occupied by events) and space (occupied by matter), the
mind naturally accepts the belief that such a relation exists.
As we find the universe enlarging under the survey of science,
our conceptions of the duration of the universe enlarge also.

When the earth was supposed to be the most important


object in creation, men might reasonably assign to time
itself (regarded as the interval between the beginning of the
earth and the consummation of all things when the earth
should perish) a moderate duration ; but it is equally reason-
able that, as the insignificance of the earth's domain in space
is recognised, men should recognise also the presumable
insignificance of the earth's existence in time.
In this respect, although we have nothing like the
direct evidence affordedby the measurement of space, we
yet have evidence which can scarcely be called in question.
We find in the structure of our earth the signs of its formei
condition. We see clearly that it was once intensely hot
and we know from experimental researches on the cooling
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 147

of various earths that many millions of years must have


been required by the earth in cooling down from its former
igneous condition. We may doubt whether Bischoff's re-
searches can be relied upon in details, and so be unwilling
to assign with him a period of 350 millions of years to a
single stage of the process of cooling. But that the entire
process lasted tens of millions and probably hundreds of
millions of years cannot be doubted. Recognising such
enormous periods as these in the development of one of
the smallest fruits of the great solar tree of life, we cannot
but admit at least the reasonableness of believing that the
larger fruits (Jupiter, for instance, with 340 times as much
matter, and Saturn with 100 times) must require periods
still vaster, probably many times larger. Indeed, science
shows not only that this view is reasonable, but that no
other view is possible. For the mighty root of the tree of
life, the great orb of the sun, containing 340 thousand times
as much matter as the earth, yet mightier periods would
be needed. The growth and development of these, the
parts of the great system, must of necessity require much
shorter time-intervals than the growth and development of
the system regarded as a whole. The enormous period
when the germs only of the sun and planets existed as yet,
when the chaotic substance of the system had not yet
blossomed into worlds, the mighty period which is to follow
the death of the last surviving member of the system, when
the whole scheme will remain as the dead trunk of a tree
remains after the last leaf has fallen, after the last move-
ment of sap within the trunk
these periods must be infi-
nite compared with those which measure the duration of
even the mightiest separate members of the system.
But all this has been left unnoticed by those who have
argued in support of the Brewsterian doctrine of a plurality
of worlds. They argue as if it had never been shown that
148 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
every member of the solar system, as of all other such
systems in space, has to pass through an enormously long
period of preparation before becoming fit to be the abode of
and that after being fit for life (for a period very long to
life,

our conceptions, but by comparison with the other exceed-


ingly short) it must for countless ages remain as an extinct
world. Or else they reason as though it had been proved that
the relatively short life-bearing periods in the existence of the
several planets must of necessity synchronise, instead of

all the probabilities lying overwhelmingly the other way.


While this has been (in my judgment) a defect in what
may be called the Brewsterian theory of other worlds, a
defect not altogether dissimilar has characterised the oppo-
site or Whewellite theory. Very useful service was rendered
to astronomy by Whewell's treatise upon, or rather against,
the plurality of worlds, calling attention as it did to the
utter feebleness of the arguments on which men had been
content to accept the belief that other planets and other
systems are inhabited. But some among the most power-
fully urged arguments against that belief tacitly relied on
the assumption of a similarity of general condition among
themembers of the solar system. For instance, the small
mean density of Jupiter and Saturn had, on the Brew-
sterian theory, been explained as .probably due to vast
hollow spaces in those planets' interiors an explanation
which (if it could be admitted) would leave us free to

believe that Jupiter and Saturn may be made of the same


materials as our own earth. With this was pleasantly inter-

mixed the conception that the inhabitant of these planets


may have his home '
in subterranean cities warmed by
central fires, or in crystal caves cooled by ocean tides, or

may float with the Nereids upon the deep, or mount upon
wings as eagles, or rise upon the pinions of the dove, that
he may flee away and be at rest,' with much more in the
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 149

same fanciful vein. We now know that there can be no


cavities more than a few
miles below the crust of a planet,
simply because, under the enormous pressures which would
exist, the most solid matter would be perfectly plastic.
But while Whewell's general objection to the theory that
Jupiter or Saturn is in the same condition as our earth thus
acquires new force, the particular explanation which he gave
of the planet's small density is open to precisely the same
general objection. For he assumes that, because the
planet's mean density is little greater than that of water,
the planet is probably a world of water and ice with a

cindery nucleus, or in fact just such a world as would be


formed if a sufficient quantity of water in the same condition
as the water of our seas were placed at Jupiter's greater
distance from the sun, around a nucleus of earthy or
cindery matter large enough to make the density of the
entire planet thus formed equal to that of Jupiter, or about
one-third greater than the density of water. In this argu-
ment there are two assumptions, of precisely the
in reality

same nature as those which Whewell set himself to combat.


It is first assumed that some material existing on a large
scale in our earth, and nearly of the same density as Jupiter,
must constitute the chief bulk of that planet, and secondly
that the temperature of Jupiter's globe must be that which
a globe of such material would have if placed where Jupiter
is. The possibility that Jupiter may be in an entirely dif
ferent stage of planetary life or, in other words, that the
youth, middle life, and old age of that planet may belong
to quite different eras from the corresponding periods of
our earth's life is entirely overlooked. Rather, indeed,
it may be said that the extreme probability of this, on any
hypothesis respecting the origin of the solar system, and
dts absolute certainty on the hypothesis of the development
of that system, are entirely overlooked
:

ISO MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


A fair illustration of the erroneous nature of the argu-
ments which have been used, not only in advocating rival

theories respecting the plurality of worlds, but also in deal-


ing with subordinate points, may be presented as follows
Imagine a wide extent of country covered with scattered
trees of various size, and with plants and shrubs, flowers and
herbs, down to the minutest known. Let us suppose a
race of tiny creatures to subsist on one of the fruits of a
tree of moderate size, their existence as a race depending
entirely on the existence of the fruit on which they subsist,

while the existence of the individuals of their race lasts


but for a few minutes. Furthermore, let there be no
regular fruit season either on their tree or in their region of

vegetable life, but fruits forming, growing, and decaying


all the time.
Let us next conceive these creatures to be possessed of
a power of reasoning respecting themselves, their fruit

world, the tree on which it hangs, and to some degree even


respecting such other trees, plants, flowers, and so forth, as

the limited range of their vision might be supposed to


include. would be a natural thought with them, when
It

first they began to exercise this power of reasoning, that

their fiiiit home was the most important object in existence,


and themselves the chief and noblest of living beings. It

would also be very natural that they should suppose the


formation of their world to correspond with the beginning
of time, and the formation of their race to have followed
the formation of their world by but a few seconds. They
would conclude that a Supreme Being had fashioned their
world and themselves by special creative acts, and that
what they saw outside their fruit world had been also
specially created, doubtless to subserve their wants.
Let us now imagine that gradually, by becoming more
closely observant than they had been, by combining to-
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 151

gether to make more complete observations, and above all

by preserving the records of observations made by successive


generations, these creatures began to obtain clearer ideas
.

respecting their world and the surrounding regions of space.


They would find evidence that the fruit on which they
lived had not been formed precisely as they knew it, but
had undergone processes of development The distressing
discovery would be made that this development could not
possibly have taken place in a few seconds, but must have
required many hours, nay, even several of those enormous
periods called by us days.
This, however, would only be the beginning of their
troubles. Gradually the more advanced thinkers and the
closest observers would perceive that not only had their
world undergone processes of development, but that its

entire mass had been formed by such processes that in


fact it had not been created at all, in the sense in which

they had understood the word, but had grown. This


would be very dreadful to these creatures, because they
would not readily be able to dispossess their minds of the
notion that they were the most important beings in the
universe, their domain of space coextensive with the uni-
verse, the duration of their world coextensive with time.
But passing over the difficulties thus arising, and the
persecution and abuse to which those would be subjected
who maintained the dangerous doctrine that their fruit

home had been developed, not created, let us consider how


these creatures would regard the question of other worlds
than their own. At first they would naturally be unwilling
to admit the possibility that other worlds as important
as their own could exist. But if after a time they found
reason to believe that their world was only one of several
belonging to a certain tree system, the idea would occur to
them, and would gradually come to be regarded as some-
[52 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
thing radre than probable, that those other fruit worlds,
like their own, might be the abode of living creatures.
And probably at first, while as yet the development of their
own world was little understood, they would conceive the
notion that all the fruits, large or small, upon their tree

system were in the same condition as their own, and either


inhabited by similar races or at least in the same full
vigour of life-bearirig existence. But so soon as they re-
cognised the law of development of their own world, and
the relation between such development and their own
requirements, they would form a different opinion, if they
found that only during certain stages of their world's
existence life could exist upon it If, for instance, they
perceived that their fruit world must once have been so
bitter and harsh in texture that no creatures in the least
degree like themselves could have lived upon it, and that

it was passing slowly but surely by


through processes
which it would become one day dry and shrivelled and
unable to support living creatures, they would be apt, if

their reasoning powers were fairly developed, to inquire


whether other fruits which they saw around them on their

tree system were either in the former or in the latter condi-


tion. If they found reason to believe certain fruits were
in one or other of these stages, they would regard such
fruits as not yet the abode of life or as past the life-sup-
porting era. It seems probable even that another idea
would suggest itself to some among their bolder thinkers.
Recognising in their own world in several instances what
to their ideas resembled absolute waste of material or of
force, it might appear to them quite possible that some,
perhaps even a large proportion, of the fruits upon their
tree were not only not supporting life at the particular
epoch ol observation, but never had supported life and
never would that, through some cause or other, life would
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 153

never appear upon such fruits even when they were ex-
cellently fitted for the support of life. They might even
conceive that some among the fruits of their tree had
failed or would fail to come to the full perfection of fruit
life.

Looking beyond their own tree that is, the tree to


which their own fruit world belonged they would perceive
other trees, though their visual powers might not enable
them to know whether such trees bore fruit, whether they
were in other respects like their own, whether those which
seemed larger or smaller were really so, or owed their

apparent largeness to nearness, or their apparent smallness


to great distance. They would be apt perhaps to generalise
a little too daringly respecting these remote tree systems,
concluding too confidently that a shrub or a flower was a
tree system like their own, or that a great tree, every
branch of which was far larger than their entire tree system,
belonged to the same order and bore similar fruit They
might mistake, also, in forgetting the probable fact that as
every fruit in their own tree system had its own period oi
life, very brief compared with the entire existence of the
fruit, so every tree might have its own fruit-bearing season.
Thus, contemplating a tree which they supposed to be like
their own in its nature, they might say, '
Yonder is a tree
system crowded with fruits, each the abode of many
myriads of creatures like ourselves :
' whereas in reality the

tree might be utterly unlike their own, might not yet have
reached or might long since have passed the fruit-bearing
stage, might when in that stage bear fruit utterly unhke
any they could even imagine, and each such fruit during
its brief life-bearing condition might be inhabited by living

beings utterly unlike any creatures they could conceive.


Yet again, we can very well imagine that the inhabitants
of our fruit world, though they might daringly overleap
(54 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
the narrow limits of space and time within which their
actual life or the life of their race was cast, though they
might learn to recognise the development of their own
world and of others like it, even from the very blossom,
would be utterly unable to conceive the possibility that the
tree itself to which their world belonged had developed by
slow processes of growth from a time when it was less even
than their own relatively minute home.
Still less would it seem credible to them, or even con-
ceivable, that the whole forest region to which they belonged,
containing many orders of trees differing altogether from
their own tree system,besides plants and shrubs, and
flowers and herbs (forms of vegetation of whose use they
could form no just conception whatever), had itself grown ;

that once the entire forest domain had been under vast
masses of water the substance which occasionally visited
their world in the form of small drops ; that such changes
were but minute local phenomena of a world infinitely

higher in order than their own that that world in


; turn was
but one of the least of the worlds forming a yet higher
system and so on ad infinitum. Such ideas would seem
;

to them not merely inconceivable, but many degrees beyond


the widest conceptions of space and time which they could
regard as admissible.
Our position differs only in degree, not in kind, from
that of these imagined creatures, and the reasoning which
we perceive (though they could not) to be just for such
creatures is just for us also. It was perfectly natural that

before men recognised the evidences of development in the


structure of our earth they should regard the earth and all

things upon the earth and visible from the earth as formed
by special creative acts precisely as we see them now. But
so soon as they perceived that the earth is undergoing pro-
cesses of development and has undergone such processes
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 155

in the past, it was reasonable, though at first painful, to


conclude that on this point they had been mistaken. Yet
as we recognise the absurdity of the supposition that,
because fruits and trees grow, and were not made in a single
instant as we know them, therefore there is no Supreme
Being, so may we justly reject as absurd the same argu-
ment, enlarged in scale, employed to induce the conclusion
that because planets and solar systems have been developed
to their present condition, and were not created in their
present form, therefore there is no Creator, no God. I do
not know that the argument ever has been used in this
form ; but it has been used to show that those who believe
in the development of worlds and systems must of neces-

sity be atheists, an even more mischievous conclusion than

the other ; for none who had not examined the subject
would be likely to adopt the former conclusion, but many
might be willing to believe that a number of their fellow-
men hold obnoxious tenets, without inquiring closely or at all

into the reasoning on which the assertion had been based.

But it is more important to notice how our views re-

specting other worlds should be affected by those circum-


stances in the evidence we have, which correspond with the
features of the evidence on which the imagined inhabitants
of the fruit world would form their opinion. It was natural
that when men first began to reason about themselves and
their home they should reject the idea of other worlds like

ours, and perhaps it was equally natural that when first

the idea was entertained that the planets may be worlds


like ours, men should conceive that all those worlds are in
the same condition as ours. But it would be, or rather it

is, as unreasonable for men to maintain such an opinion

now, when the laws of planetary development are under-


stood, when the various dimensions of the planets are
known, and when the shortness of the life-supporting period
;

156 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.


of a planet's existence compared with the entire duration
of the planet has been it would be
clearly recognised, as
for the imagined inhabitants of a small on a tree to fruit

suppose that all the other fruits on the tree, though some
manifestly far less advanced in development and others
far more advanced than their own, were the abode of the

same forms of life, though these forms were seen to require


those conditions, and no other, corresponding to the stage
of development through which their own world was passing.
Viewing the universe of suns and worlds in the manner
here suggested, we should adopt a theory of other worlds
which would hold a position intermediate between the
Brewsterian and the Whewellite theories. (It is not on
this account that I advocate it, let me remark in passing,
but simply because it accords with the evidence, which is

not the case with the others.) Rejecting on the one hand
the theory of the plurality of worlds in the sense implying
that all existing worlds are inhabited, and on the other

hand the theory of but one world, we should accept a theory


which might be entitled the Paucity of Worlds, only that
relative not absolute paucity must be understood. It is

absolutely certain that this theory is the correct one, if we


admit two postulates, neither of which can be reasonably
questioned viz., first, that the life-bearing era of any world
is short compared with the entire duration of that world
and secondly, that there can have been no cause which set
all the worlds in existence, not simultaneously, which would
be amazing enough, but (which would be infinitely more
surprising) in such a way that after passing each through its

time of preparation, longer for the large worlds and shorter


for the small worlds, they all reached at the same time the

life-bearing era. But quite apart from this antecedent


probability, amounting as it does to absolute certainty if
these two highly probably postulates are admitted, we have.
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 157

the actual evidence of the planets we can examine that


evidence proving incontestably, as I have shown elsewhere,
that such planets as Jupiter and Saturn are still in the state
of preparation, still so intensely hot that no form of life

could possibly exist upon them, and that such bodies as


our moon have long since passed the life-bearing stage, and
are to all intents and purposes defunct.
But may we not go farther ? Recognising in our own
world, in many instances, what to our ideas resembles waste
waste waste
seeds, lives, waste races, waste regions, waste
recognising
forces superfluity and superabundance in all

the processes and in all the works of nature, should it not


appear at least possible that some, perhaps even a large
proportion, of the worlds in the multitudinous systems
peopling space, are not only not now supporting life, but
never have supported life and never will ? Does this idea

differ in kind, however largely to our feeble conceptions it

may seem to differ in degree, from the idea of the imagined


creatures on a fruit, that some or even many fruits excell-

ently fitted for the support of life might not subserve that
purpose? And as those creatures might conceive (as we
know) that some fruits, even many, fail to come to the full

perfection of fruit life, may not we without irreverence


conceive (as higher beings than ourselves may know) that

a planet or a sun may making ? We cannot say


fail in the

that in such a case there would be a waste or loss of


material, though we may be unable to conceive how the lost
sun or planet could be utilised. Our imagined insect
reasoners would be unable to imagine that fruits plucked
from their tree system were otherwise than wasted, for they
would conceive that their idea of the purpose of fruits was

the only true one ;


would
yet they be altogether mistaken,
as we may be in supposing the main purpose of planetary
existence is the support of life.
IS8 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
In like manner, when we pass in imagination beyond
the limits of our own system, we may learn a useful lesson
from the imagined creatures' reasoning about other tree

systems than that to which their world belonged. Astro-


nomers have been apt to generalise too daringly respecting
remote stars and star systems, as though our solar system
were a true picture of all solar systems, the system of stars
to which our sun belongs a true picture of all star systems.
They have been apt to forget that, as every world in our
own system has its period of life, short by comparison with
the entire duration of the world, so each solar system, each
system of such systems, may have its own life-bearing
season, infinitely long according to our conceptions, but
very short indeed compared with the entire dvuration of
which the would be only a single era.
life-bearing season
though men may daringly overleap the Hmits of
Lastly,
time and space within which their lives are cast, though
they may learn to recognise the development of their own
world and of others like it even from the blossom of nebu-
they sfeem unable to rise to the conception that the
losity,

mighty tree which during remote aeons bore those nebulous


blossoms sprang itself from cosmical germs. We are un-
able to conceive the nature of such germs; the processes
of development affecting them belong to other orders than
any processes we know of,and required periods compared
with which the inconceivable, nay, the inexpressible periods
required for the development of the parts of our universe,
are as mere instants. Yet have we every reason which
analogy can afford to believe that even the development of
a whole universe such as ours should be regarded as but a
minute local phenomenon of a universe infinitely higher in
order, that universe in turn but a single
member of a
system of such universes, and so on, even ad infinitum.
To reject the belief that this is possible is to share the folly
OTHER WORLDS AND OTHER UNIVERSES. 159

of beings such as we have conceived regarding their tiny


world as a fit centre whence to measure the universe, while
yet, from such a stand-point, this Kttle earth on which we
live would be many degrees beyond the limits where for
them the inconceivable would begin. To reject the belief
that this is not only possible, but real, is to regard the few
short steps by which man has advanced towards the un-
known as a measurable approach towards limits of space,
towards the beginning and the end of all things. Until it

can be shown that space is bounded by beyond which


limits
neither matter nor void exists, that time had a beginning
before which it was not and tends to an end after which it

will exist no more, we may confidently accept the belief


that the history of our earth is as evanescent in time as the
earth itself is evanescent in space, and that nothing we can
possibly learn about our earth, or about the system it be-
longs to, or about systems of such systems, can either prove
or disprove aught respecting the scheme and mode of
government of the universe itself It is true now as it was
in days of yore, and it will remain true as long as the earth
and those who dwell on it endure, that what men know is

nothing, the unknown infinite.


t6o MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.

VI.

SUNS IN FLAMES.
In November 1876 news arrived of a catastrophe the
effects of which must in all probability have been disas-
trous, not to a district, or a country, or a continent, or
even a world, but to a whole system of worlds. The cata-

strophe happened many years ago probably at least a


hundred yet the messenger who brought the news has not
been idle on his way, but has sped along at a rate which
would suffice to circle this earth eight times in the course
That messenger has had, however, to traverse
of a second.
and only reached our earth
millions of millions of miles,
November 1876. The news he brought was that a sun
like our own was in conflagration ; and on a closer study of
his message something was learned as to the nature of the
conflagration, and a few facts tending to throw light on the
question (somewhat interesting to ourselves) whether our
own sun is likely to undergo a similar mishap at any time.
What would happen if he did, we know already. The sun
which has just met with this disaster that is, which so
suffered a few generations ago blazed out for a time with
several hundred times its former lustre. If our sun were
to increase as greatly in Ught and heat, the creatures on the
side of our earth turned towards him at the time would be
destroyed in an instant Those on the dark or night
hemisphere would not have to wait for their turn till the-
SUJVS IN FLAMES. i6:

earth, by rotating, carried them into view of the destroying


sun. In much briefer space the effect of his new fires
would be felt all over the earth's surface. The heavens
would be dissolved and the elements would melt with fer-

vent heat. In fact no description of such a catastrophe, as


affecting the night half of the earth, could possibly be more
effective and poetical than St Peter's account of the day of
the Lord, coming as a thief in the night in the which the
'
;

heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements
shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works
burned up;' though I imagine the
that are therein being
apostlewould have been scarce prepared to admit that the
earth was in danger from a solar conflagration. Indeed,
according to another account, the sun' was to be turned
into darkness and the moon into blood, before that great
and notable day of the Lord came a description corres-
ponding well with solar and lunar eclipses, the most note-
worthy '
signs in the heavens,' but agreeing very ill with the
outburst of a great solar conflagration.
Before proceeding to inquire into the singular and
significant circumstances of the recent outburst, it may be
found interesting to examine briefly the records which
astronomy has preserved of similar catastrophes in former
years. These may be compared to the records of accidents
on the various railway lines in a country or continent.
Those other suns which we call stars are engines working
the mighty mechanism of planetary systems, as our sun
maintains the energies of our own system; and it is a
some interest to us to
matter of inquire in how many cases,
among the many suns within the range of vision, destruc-

tive explosions occur. We may take the opportunity,


later, to inquire into the number of cases in which the
machinery of solar systems appears to have broken down.
The first case of a solar conflagration on record is that
i62 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
of the new star observed by Hipparchus some 2000 years
ago. In his time, and indeed until quite recently, an

object of this kind was called a new star, or a temporary


star. But we now know that when a star makes its
appearance where none had before been visible, what has
really happened has been that a star too remote to be seen

has become visible through some rapid increase of splendour.


When the new splendour dies out again, it is not that a
star has ceased to exist ; but simply that a faint star which
had increased greatly in lustre has resumed its original
condition. Hipparchus's star must have been a remark-
able object, for it was visible in full daylight, whence we

may infer that it was many times brighter than the blazing
Dog-star. It is interesting in the history of science, as
having led Hipparchus to draw up a catalogue of stars, the
first on record. Some moderns, being sceptical, rejected

this story as a fiction ; but Biot examining Chinese Chron-


icles' relating to the times of Hipparchus, finds that in 134
B.a (about nine years before the date of Hipparchus's
catalogue) a new star was recorded as having appeared in

the constellation Scorpio.


The next new star (that is, stellar conflagration) on

1 Chinese chronicles contain other references to new stars. The


annals of Ma-touan-lin, which contain the official records of remark-
able appearances in the heavens, include some phenomena which mani-
festly belong to Thus they record that in the year 173 a
this class.

star appeared between the stars which mark the hind feet of the Cen-

taur. This star remained visible from December in that year until July
in the next (about the same time as Tycho Brahe's and Kepler's new
stars, presently to be described). Another star, assigned by these
annals to the year loi seems to be the same as a star referred to by
i,

Hepidannus as appearing A.D. 1012. It was of extraordinary brilli-


ancy, and remained visible in the southern part of the heavens during
three months. The annals of Ma-touan-lin assign to it a position low
down in Sagittarius.
SUJ^S IN FLAMES. 163

record is still more interesting, as there appears some


reason for believing that before long we may see another
outburst of the same star. In the years 945, 1264, and
1572, brilliant stars appeared in the region of the heavens
between Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Sir J. Herschel remarks,
that, '
from the imperfect account we have of the places of
the two earlier, as compared with that of the last, which
was well determined, as well as from the tolerably near
coincidence of the intervals of their appearance, we may
suspect them, with Goodricke, to be one and the same star,

with a period of 312 or perhaps of 156 years.' The latter

period may very reasonably be rejected, as one can perceive


no reason why the intermediate returns of the star to
visibility should have been overlooked, the star having
appeared in a region which never sets. It is to be noted

that, the period from 945 to 1264 being 319 years, and
that from 1264 to 1572 only 308 years, the period of this
star (if Goodricke is correct in supposing the three outbursts
to have occurred in the same star) would seem to be
diminishing. At any time, then, this star might now blaze
out in the region between Cassiopeia and Cepheus, for more
than 304 years have already passed since its last outburst
As the appearance of a new star led Hipparchus to
undertake the formation of his famous catalogue, so did
the appearance of the star in Cassiopeia, in 1572, lead the
Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe to construct a new and
enlarged catalogue. (This, be it remembered, was before
the invention of the telescope.) Returning one evening
(November 11, 1572, old style) from his laboratory to his

dwelling-house, he found, says Sir J. Herschel, '


a group of
country people gazing at a star, which he was sure did not
exist an hour before. This was the star in question.'

The description of the star and its various changes is

more interesting at the present time, when the true nature


I64 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
of thesephenomena is understood, than it was even in the
time when the star was blazing in the firmament. It will

be gathered from that description and from what I shall


have to say farther on about the results of recent observa-
tions on less splendid new stars, that, if this star should
reappear in the next few years, our observers wiU probably
be able to obtain very important information from it The
message from it will be much fuller and more distinct than

any we have yet received from such stars, though we have


learned quite enough to remain in no sort of doubt as to
their general nature.
The star remained visible, we learn, about sixteen
months, during which time it kept its place in the heavens
without the least variation. '
It had all the radiance of the

fixed stars, and twinkled like them and was in all respects
;

like Sirius, except that it surpassed Sirius in brightness


and magnitude.' It appeared larger than Jupiter, which
was at that time at his brightest, and was scarcely inferior
to Venus. It did not acquire this lustre gradually, but
shone forth at once of and brightness, as if,'
its full size '

said the chroniclers of the time, it had been of instan- '

taneous creation.' For three weeks it shone with full


splendour, during which time it could be seen at noonday
'
by those who had good eyes, and knew where to look for
it.' But before it had been seen a month, it became
visibly smaller, and from the middle of December 1572 till
March 1574, when it entirely disappeared, it continually
diminished in magnitude. '
As it decreased in size, it

varied in colour : at first its light was white and extremely


bright ; it then became yellowish ; afterwards of a ruddy
colour like Mars; and finished with a pale livid white
resembUng the colour of Saturn.' All the details of this
account should be very carefully noted. It will presently

be seen that they are highly characteristic.



SC/JVS IN FLAMES. 165

Those who care to look occasionally at the heavens to


know whether this star has returned to view may be in-

terested to learn whereabouts it should be looked for.

The place may be described as close to the back of the


star-gemmed chair in which Cassiopeia is supposed to sit

a little to the left of the seat of the chair, supposing the


chair to be looked at in its normal position. But as
Cassiopeia's chair is always inverted when the constellation
is most conveniently placed for observation, and indeed as
nine-tenths of those who know the constellation suppose
the chair's legs to be the back, and vice vers&, it may be

useful to mention that the star was placed somewhat thus


with respect to the straggling W formed by the five chief
stars of Cassiopeia. There is a star not very far from *

the place here indicated, but rather nearer to the VV


middle angle of the W. This, however, is not a bright
star; and cannot possibly be mistaken for the expected
visitant (The place of Tycho's star is indicated in my
School Star- Atlas and also in my larger Library Atlas.
The same remark applies to both the new stars in the
Serpent-Bearer, presently to be described.)
In August 1596 the astronomer Fabricius observed a
new star in the neck of the Whale, which also after a time

disappeared. It was not noticed again till the year 1637,


when an observer rejoicing in the name of Phocyllides
Holwarda observed it, and, keeping a watch, after it had
vanished, upon the place where it had appeared, saw it
again come into view nine months after its disappearance.
Since then it has been known as a variable star with
a period of about 331 days 8 hours. When brightest

this star is of the second magnitude. It indicates a

somewhat singular remissness on the part of the astro-


nomers of former days, that a star shining so conspicuously
for a fortnight, once in each period of 331^ days, should
i66 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
for so many years have remained undetected. It may,
perhaps, be thought that, noting this, I should withdraw
the objection raised above against Sir J.
Herschel's idea
that the star in Cassiopeia may return to view once in 156
years, instead ofonce in 3 1 2 years. But there is a great
difference star which at its brightest shines only
between a
as a second-magnitude star, so that it has twenty or thirty
companions of equal or greater lustre above the horizon
along with it, and a star which surpasses three-fold the
splendid Sirius. We have seen that even in Tycho Brahe's
day,when probably the stars were not nearly so well
known by the community at large, the new star in

Cassiopeia had not shone an hour before the country


people were gazing at it with wonder. Besides, Cassiopeia
and the Whale are constellations very different in position.
The familiar stars of Cassiopeia are visible on every clear
night, for they never set. The stars of the Whale, at least
of the part to which the wonderful variable star belongs,
are below the horizon during rather more than half the
twenty-four hours ; and a new star there would only be
noticed, probably (unless of exceeding splendour), if it

chanced to appear during that part of the year when the


Whale is high above the horizon between eventide and
midnight, or in the autumn and early winter.
It is a noteworthy circumstance about the variable star
in the Whale, deservedly called Mira, or The Wonderful,
that it does not always return to the same degree of bright-
ness. Sometimes it has been a very bright second-magni-
tude star when at its brightest, at others it has barely
exceeded the third magnitude. Hevelius relates that dur-
ing the four years between October 1672 and December
1676, Mira did not show herself at all ! As this star fades
out, it changes in colour from white to red.

Towards the end of September 1604, a new star made


^roVS IN FLAMES. 167

its appearance in the constellation Ophiuchus, or the Ser-


pent-Bearer. Its place was near the heel of the right foot
of '
Ophiuchus huge.' Kepler tells us that it had no hair
or tail, and was certainly not a comet. Moreover, like the
other fixed stars, it kept its place unchanged, showing
unmistakably that it belonged to the star-depths, not to
nearer regions. '
It was exactly
one of the stars, except like
that in the vividness of its lustre,and the quickness of its
sparkling, it exceeded anything that he had ever seen before.
It was every moment changing into some of the colours of

the rainbow, as yellow, orange, purple, and red ; though it


was generally white when it was at some distance from the
vapours of the horizon.' In fact, these changes of colour
must not be regarded as indicating aught but the star's

superior brightness. Every very bright star,when close


to the horizon, shows these colours, and so much the
more distinctly as the star is the brighter. Sirius, which
surpasses the brightest stars of the northern hemisphere
fuU four times in lustre, shows these changes of colour so
conspicuously that they were regarded as specially charac-
teristic insomuch that Homer speaks of Sirius
of this star,

(not star of autumn ') shining most


by name, but as the '

beautifully when laved of ocean's wave


'
that is, when '
close to the horizon. And our own poet, Tennyson, fol-
lowing the older poet, sings how

the fiery Sirius alters hue,


And bickers into red and emerald.

The new star was brighter than Sirius, and was about five

degrees lower down, when at its highest above the horizon,


than Sirius when he culminates. Five degrees being equal
to nearly ten times the apparent diameter of the moon, it

will be seen how much more favourable the conditions were


in the case of Kepler's star for those coloured scintillations
i68 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMV.
which characterised that orb. Sirius never rises very high
above the horizon. In fact, at his highest (near midnight
in winter, and, of course, near midday in summer) he is

about as high above the horizon as the sun at midday in


the first week in February. Kepler's star's greatest height
above the horizon was little more than three-fourths of this,
or equal to about the sun's elevation at midday on January
13 or 14 in any year.
Like Tycho Brahe's star, Kepler's was brighter even
than Jupiter, and only fell short of Venus in splendour. It

preserved its lustre for about three weeks, after which time
it gradually grew fainter and fainter until some time between
October 1605 and February 1606, when it disappeared.
The exact day is unknown, as during that interval the
constellation ot the Serpent-Bearer is above the horizon in
the day-time only. But in February 1606, when it again
became possible to look for the new star in the night-time,
ithad vanished. It probably continued to glow with suffi-

cient lustre to have remained visible, but for the veil of


lightunder which the sun concealed it, for about sixteen
months altogether. In fact, it seems very closely to have
resembled Tycho's star, not only in appearance and in the
degree of its greatest brightness, but in the duration of its

visibility.

In the year 1670 a new star appeared in the constellation


Cygnus, attaining the third magnitude. It remained visible,

but not with this lustre, for nearly two years. After it had
faded almost out of view, it flickered up again for awhile,
but soon after it died out, so as to be entirely invisible.
Whether a powerful telescope would still have shown it is
uncertain, but it seems extremely probable. It may be,
indeed, that this new star in the Swan is the same which
has made its appearance within the last few weeks ; but on
this point the evidence is uncertain.
SC/ATS m FLAMES. 169

On April 20, 1848, Mr. Hind (Superintendent of the


Nautical Almanac, and discoverer of ten new members of
the solar system) noticed a new star of the fifth magnitude
in the Serpent-Bearer, but in quite another part of that
large constellation than had been occupied by Kepler's
star. A few weeks later, it rose to the fourth magnitude.
But afterwards its light diminished until it became invisible

to ordinary eyesight It did not vanish utterly, however.


It is still visible with telescopic power, shining as a star of

the eleventh magnitude, that is five magnitudes below the


faintest star discernible with the unaided eye.
This is the first new star which has been kept in view
since its apparent creation. But we are now approaching
the time when it was found that as so-called new stars con-

tinue in existence long after they have disappeared from


view, so also they are not in reality new, but were in
existence long before they became visible to the naked
eye.

On May 12, 1866, shortly before midnight, Mr. Bir-

mingham, of Tuam, noticed a star of the second magnitude


in the Northern Crown, where hitherto no star visible to

the naked eye had been known. Dr. Schmidt, of Athens,


who had been observing that region of the heavens the
same night, was certain that up to 11 p.m., Athens local
time, there was no star above the fourth magnitude in the
place occupied by the new star. So that, if this negative
evidence can be implicitly relied on, the new star must
have sprung at least from the fourth, and probably from a
much lower magnitude, to the second, in less than three
hours eleven o'clock at Athens corresponding to about
nine o'clock by Irish railway time. A Mr. Barker, of Lon-
don, Canada, put forward a claim to having seen the new
star as early as May 4 a claim not in the least worth
investigating, so far a.s the credit of first seeing the new star
170 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
is concerned, but exceedingly important in its bearing on
the nature of the outburst affecting the star in Corona. It

IS unpleasant to have to throw discredit on any definite


assertion of facts ; unfortunately, however, Mr. Barker, when
his claim was challenged, laid before Mr. Stone, of the
Greenwich Observatory, such very definite records of obser-
vations made on May 4, 8, 9, and 10, that we have no choice
but either to admit these observations, or to infer that he
experienced the delusive effects of a very singular trick of
memory. He mentions in his letter to Mr. Stone that he
had sent full particulars of his observations on those early
dates to Professor Watson, of Ann Arbor University, on
May 1 7 ; but (again unfortunately) instead of leaving that
letter to tell its own story in Professor Watson's hands, he
asked Professor Watson to return it to him : so that when
Mr. Stone very naturally asked Professor Watson to furnish
a copy of this important letter. Professor Watson had to

reply, '
About a month ago, Mr. Barker applied to me for
this letter, and I returned it to him, as requested, without

preserving a copy. I can, however,' he proceeded, '


state
positively that he did not mention any actual observation
earlier than May 14. He said he thought he had noticed a
strange star in the Crown about two weeks before the date
of his first observation May 14but not particularly, and
that he did not recognise it until the 14th. He did not
give any date, and did not even seem positive as to identity.
. . . When I returned the letter of May 17, I made an
endorsement across the first page, in regard to its genuine-
ness, and attached my signature. I regret that I did
not preserve a copy of the letter in question ; but if the
original is produced, it will appear that my recollection
of its contents is correct.' I think no one can blame
Mr. Stone, if, on the receipt of this letter, he stated that
he had not the 'slightest hesitation' in regarding Mr.
SU^JVS IN FLAMES. 171

Barker's earlier observations as '


not entitled to the slightest
CTedit'i

It may be fairly taken for granted that the new star


leapt very quickly, if not quite suddenly, to its full splendour.
Birmingham, as we have seen, was the first to notice it, on
May 12. On the evening of May 13, Schmidt of Athens
discovered it independently, and a few hours later it was
noticed by a French engineer named Courbebaisse. After-
wards, Baxendell of Manchester, and others independently
saw the star. Schmidt, examining Argelander's charts of
324,000 stars (charts which I have had the pleasure of map-
ping in a single sheet), found that the star was not a new

' Still a circumstance must be mentioned which tends to show that


the star may have been visible a few hours earlier than Dr. Schmidt
supposed. Mr. IVI. Walter, surgeon of the 4th regiment, then stationed
in North India, wrote (oddly enough, on May 12, 1867, the first anni-
versary of Mr. Birmingham's discovery) as follows to Mr. Stone I :
'

am certain that this same conflagration was distinctly perceptible here


at least six hours earlier. My knowledge of the fact came about in
this wise. The night of the 12th of May last year was exceedingly
sultry, and about eight o'clock on that evening I got up from the tea-
table and rushed into my garden to seek a cooler atmosphere. As my
door opens towards the east, the first object that met my view was the
Northern Crown. My attention was at once arrested by the sight of
a strange star outside the crown ' (that is, outside the circlet of stars
forming the diadem, not outside the constellation itself). The new
star ' was then certainly quite as bright I rather thought more so as
its neighbour Alphecca, ' the chief gem of the crown. ' I was so much
struck with its appearance, that I exclaimed to those indoors, "Why,
! "
here is a new comet ' He made a diagram of the constellation,
showing the place of the new star correctly. Unfortunately, Mr.
Walter does not state why he is so confident, a year after the event,
was on the 12th of May, and not on the 13th, that he noticed
that it

the new
star. If he fixed the date only by the star's appearance as a
second-magnitude star, his letter proves nothing ; for we know that on
the 13th it was" still shining as brightly as Alphecca, though on the
14th it was perceptibly fainter.
172 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
one, but had been set down by Argelander as between the
ninth and tenth magnitudes. Referring to Argelander's
list, we find that the star had been twice observed viz.,

on May i8, 1855, and on March 31, 1856.


Birmingham wrote at once to Mr. Huggins, who, in con-
junction with the late Dr. Miller, had been for some time
engaged in observing stars and other celestial objects with
the spectroscope. These two observers at once directed
their armed with spectroscopic adjuncts
telescope the
telespectroscope is the pleasing name of the compound
instrument to the new-comer. The result was rather
startling. It may be well, however, before describing it, to

indicate in a few words the meaning of various kinds of


spectroscopic evidence.
The light of the sun, sifted out by the spectroscope,
shows all the colours but not all the tints of the rainbow.
It is spread out into a large rainbow-tinted streak, but at
various places (a few thousand) along the streak there are
missing tints ; so that in fact the streak is crossed by a
multitude of dark lines. We know that these lines are due
to the absorptive action of vapours existing in the atmo-
sphere of the sun, and from the position of the lines we can
tell what the vapours are. Thus, hydrogen by its absorp-
tive action produces four of the bright lines. The vapour of
iron is there, the vapour of sodium, magnesium, and so oa
Again, we know that these same vapours, which, by their
absorptive action, cut off rays of certain tints, emit hght of
just those tints. In fact, if the glowing mass of the sun
could be suddenly extinguished, leaving his atmosphere in
its present intensely heated condition, the light of the faint
sun which would thus be left us would give (under spectro-
scopic scrutiny) those very rays which now seem wanting.
There would be a spectrum of multitudinous- bright lines,
instead of a rainbow-tinted spectrum crossed by multi-
S172\^S IN FLAMES. 173

tudinous dark lines. It is, indeed, only by contrast that


the dark lines appear dark, just as it is only by contrast
that the solar spots seem dark. Not only the penumbra
but the umbra of a sunspot, not only the umbra but the
nucleus, not only the nucleus but the deeper black which
seems to lie at the core of the nucleus, shine really with a
lustre far exceeding that of the electric light, though by
contrast with the rest of the sun's surface the penumbra
looks dark, the umbra darker still, the nucleus deep black,
and the core of the nucleus jet black. So the dark lines
across the solar spectrum mark where certain rays are
relatively faint, though in reality intensely lustrous. Con-
ceive another change than that just imagined. Conceive
the sun's globe to remain as at present, but the atmosphere
to be excited to many times its present degree of light and
splendour : then would all these dark lines become bright,
and the rainbow-tinted background would be dull or even
quite dark by contrast This is not a mere fancy. At
times, local disturbances take place in the sun which pro-
duce just such a change in certain constituents of the sun's
atmosphere, causing the hydrogen, for example, to glow
with so intense a heat that, instead of its lines appearing
dark, they stand out as bright lines. Occasionally, too, the
magnesium in the solar atmosphere (over certain limited
regions only, remembered) has been known to behave
be it

in this manner. It was so during the intensely hot summer

of 1872, insomuch that the Italian observer Tacchini, who


noticed the phenomenon, attributed to such local overheat-
ing of the sun's magnesium vapour the remarkable heat
from which we then for a time suffered.
Now, the stars are suns, and the spectrum of a star is

simply a miniature of the solar spectrum. Of course, there


are characteristic differences. One star haS more hydrogen,
at least more hydrogen at work absorbing its rays, and
174 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
thus has the hydrogen Unas more strongly marked than
they are in the solar spectrum. Another star shows the
lines of various metals more conspicuously, indicating that
the glowing vapours of such elements, iron, copper, mercury,
tin, and so forth, either hang more densely in the star's

atmosphere than in our sun's, or, being cooler, absorb their


special tints more effectively. But speaking generally, a
stellar spectrum is like the solar spectrum. There is the
rainbow-tinted streak, which implies that the source of
light is glowing solid, liquid, or highly compressed vapor-

ous matter, and athwart the streak there are the multitudin-
ous dark lines which imply that around the glowing heart
of the star there are envelopes of relatively cool vapours.
We can understand, then, the meaning of the evidence
obtained from the new star in the Northern Crown.
In the first place, the new star showed the rainbow-
tinted streak crossed by dark lines, which indicated its sun-
like nature. But, standing out on that rainbow-tinted streak
as on a dark background, were four exceedingly bright lines
lines so bright, though fine, that clearly most of the stains light
came from the glowing vapours to which these lines belonged.
Three of the lines belonged to hydrogen, the fourth was
not identified with any known line.

Let us distinguish between what can certainly be con-


cluded from this remarkable observation, and what can only
be inferred with a greater or less degree of probability.
It is absolutely certain that when Messrs. Huggins and
Miller made their observation (by which time the new star
had faded from the second to the third magnitude), enor-
mous masses of hydrogen around the star were glowing
with a heat far more intense than that of the star itself
within the hydrogen envelope. It is certain that the in-
crease in the star's light, rendering the star visible which
before had been far beyond the range of ordinary eyesight,
;

SUN'S IN FLAMES. 175

was due to the abnormal heat of the hydrogen surrounding


that remote sun.
But it is not so clear whether the intense glow of the
hydrogen was caused by combustion or by intense heat
without combustion. The difference between the two
causes of increased light is important; because on the
opinion we form on this point must depend our opinion as
to the probability that our sun may one day experience a
similar catastrophe, and also our opinion as to the state of
the sun in the Northern Crown after the outburst To
illustrate the distinction in question, let us take two familiar
cases of the emission of light. A burning coal glows with
red and so does a piece of iron placed in a coal fire.
light,

But the coal and the iron are undergoing very different
processes. The coal is burning, and will presently be con-
sumed the iron is not burning (except in the sense that it
;

is burning hot, which means only that it will make any

combustible substance burn which is brought into contact


with it), and it will not be consumed though the coal fire
be maintained around it for days and weeks and months.
So with the hydrogen flames which play at all times over
the surface of our own sun. They are not burning like the
hydrogen flames which are used for the oxy-hydrogen
lantern. Were the solar hydrogen so burning, the sun
would quickly be extinguished. They are simply aglow
with intensity of heat, as a mass of red-hot iron is aglow
and, so long as the sun's energies are maintained, the
hydrogen around him will glow in this way without being
consumed. As the new fires of the star in the Crown died
out rapidly, it is possible that in their case there was actual
combustion. On the other hand, it is also possible, and
perhaps on the whole more probable, that the hydrogen
surrounding the star was simply set glowing with increased
lustre owing to some cause not as yet ascertained.
176 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
Let US see how these two theories have been actually
worded by the students of science themselves who have
maintained them.
The sudden blazing forth of this star,' says Mr. Huggins,
'

'
and then the rapid fading away of its light, suggest the
rather bold speculation that in consequence of some great
internal convulsion, a large volume of hydrogen and other
gases was evolved from it, the hydrogen, by its combination
with some other element,' in other words, by burning,
'
giving out the light represented by the bright lines, and
at the same time heating to the point of vivid incandescence

the solid matter of the star's surface.' '


As the liberated
hydrogen gas became exhausted '
(I now quote not Huggins's
own words, but words describing his theory in a book which
he has edited) 'the flame gradually abated, and, with the
consequent cooling, the star's surface became less vivid, and
the star returned to its original condition.'
On the other hand, the German physicists, Meyer and
Klein, consider the sudden development of hydrogen, in
quantities sufficient to explain such an outburst, exceedingly
unlikely. They have therefore adopted the opinion, that
the sudden blazing out of the star was occasioned by the
some mighty mass, perhaps a planet,
violent precipitation of
upon the globe of that remote sun, by which the momen- '

tum of the falling mass would be changed into molecular


motion, or in other words into heat and Hght.' It might
even be supposed, they urge, that the star in the Crown,
by its swift motion, may have come in contact with one of

the star clouds which exist in large numbers in the realms


of space. 'Such a collision would necessarily set the star
in a blaze and occasion the most vehement ignition of its
hydrogen.'
Fortunately, our sun is safe for many milhons of years
to come from contact from any one of its planets. The
SC/JVS IN FLAMES. 177

reader must not, however, run away with the idea that the
danger consists only in the gradual contraction of planetary
orbits sometimes spoken of. That contraction, if it is taking
place at all, of which we have not a particle of evidence,
would not draw Mercury to the sun's surface for at least
ten million millions of years. The real danger would be
in the effects which the perturbing action of the larger
planets might produce on the orbit of Mercury. That
orbit is even now very eccentric, and must at times become
still more so. It might, but for the actual adjustment of
the planetary system, become so eccentric that Mercury
could not keep clear of the sun ; and a blow from even
small Mercury (only weighing, in fact, 390 millions of
millions of millions of tons), with a velocity of some 300
miles per second, would warm our sun considerably. But
there is no risk of this happening in Mercury's case though
the unseen and much more shifty Vulcan (in which planet
I beg to express here my utter disbelief) might, perchance,
work mischief if he really existed.

As for star clouds lying in the sun's course, we may feel

equally confident. The telescope assures us that there are


none immediately on the track, and we know, also, that,

swiftly though the sun is carrying us onwards through


space,' many millions of years must pass before he is among
the star families towards which he is rushing.

Of the danger from combustion, or from other causes


of ignition than those considered by Meyer and Klein, it
still But first, let us consider what new
remains to speak.
evidence has been thrown upon the subject by the observa-
tions made on the star which flamed out last November.

1 The velocity of three or four miles per second inferred by the elder
Struve must now be regarded (as I long since pointed out would prove
to be the case) as very far short of the real velocity of our system's

ftiotion through stellar space.

N
178 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
The new star was first seen by Professor Schmidt, who
has had the good fortune of announcing to astronomers
more than one remarkable phenomenon. It was he who
discovered in November 1866 that a lunar crater had dis-
appeared, an announcement quite in accordance with the
facts of the case. We have seen that he was one of the
independent discoverers of the outburst in the Northern
Crown. On November 24, at the early hour of 5.41 in the

evening (showing that Schmidt takes time by the forelock


at his observatory), he noticed a star of the third magnitude
in the constellation of the Swan, not far from the tail of that
southward-fl)dng celestial bird. He is quite sure that on
November 20, the last preceding clear evening, the star
was not there. At midnight its light was very yellow, and
it was somewhat brighter than the neighbouring star Eta
Pegasi, on the Flying Horse's southernmost knee (if ana-
tomists will excuse my following the ordinary usage which
calls the wrist of the horse's fore-arm the knee). He sent
news of the discovery forthwith to Leverrier, the chief of the
Paris observatory ; and the observers there set to work to
analyse the light of the stranger. Unfortunately the star's

suddenly acquired brilliancy rapidly faded. M. Paul Henry


estimated the star's brightness on December 2 as equal
only to that of a fifth -magnitude star. Moreover, the
colour, which had been very yellow on November 24, was
by this time '
greenish, almost blue.' On December 2, M.
Cornu, observing during a short time when the star was
visible through a break between clouds, found that the

star's spectrum consisted almost entirely of bright lines.

On December 5, he was able to determine the position of


these lines, though still much interrupted by clouds. He
found three bright lines of hydrogen, the strong (really
double) line of sodium, the (really triple) line of magnesium,
and two other lines. One of these last seemed to agree
SUNS IN flah^es. 179

exactly in position with a bright line belonging to the


corona seen around the sun during total eclipse.i
The star has since faded gradually in lustre until, at
present, it is quite invisible to the naked eye.
We cannot doubt that the catastrophe which befell this

star is of the same general nature as is that which befell the


star in the Northern Crown. It is extremely significant
that all the elements which manifested signs of intense
heat in the case of the star in the Swan, are characteristic
of our sun's outer appendages. We know that the coloured
flames seen around the sun during total solar eclipse consist
of glowing hydrogen, and of glowing matter giving a line
so near the sodium line that in the case of a stellar spec-
trum it would, probably, not be possible to distinguish one
from the other. Into the prominences there are thrown
from time to time masses of glowing sodium, magnesium,
and (in less degree) iron and other metallic vapours.
Lastly, in that glorious appendage, the solar corona, which
extends for hundreds of thousands of miles from the sun's
surface, there are enormous quantities of some element,
whose nature is as yetunknown, showing under spectro-
scopic analysis the bright line which seems to have appeared
in the spectrum of the flaming sun in the Swan.
^ M. Comu's observations are full of interest, and he deserves con-
siderable credit for his energy in availing himself of the few favourable
opportunities he had
making them. But he goes beyond his pro-
for
vince in adding to his account of them some remarks, intended ap-
parently as a reflection on Mr. Huggins's speculations respecting the
star in the Northern Crown. */,' says M. Comu, vdll not try to '

form any hypothesis about the cause of the outburst. To do so would


be unscientific, and such speculations, though interesting, cumber science
wofiiUy.' This is sheer nonsense, and comes very ill from an observer
whose successes in science have been due entirely to the employment of
methods of observation which would have had no existence had others
been as unready to think out the meaning of observed facts as he appears
to be himself.
i8o MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
This evidence seems to me to suggest that the intense
heat which suddenly affected this star had its origin from
without. At the same time, I cannot agree with Meyer and
Klein in considering that the cause of the heat was either
the downfall of a planetary mass on the star, or the collision
of the star with a star-cloudlet, or nebula, traversing space
in one direction while the star swept onwards in another.
A planet could not very well come into final conflict with

its sun at one fell would gradually draw nearer


swoop. It

and nearer, not by the narrowing of its path, but by the


change of the path's shape. The path would, in fact,
become more and more eccentric ; until, at length, at its
point of nearest approach, the planet would graze its

primary, exciting an intense heat where it struck, but


escaping actual destruction that time. The planet would
make another and again graze its sun, at or near the
circuit,

same part of the planet's path. For several circuits this


would continue, the grazes not becoming more effective
each time, but rather less. The interval between them,
however, would grow continually less and less. At last the
time would come when the planet's path would be reduced
to the circular form, its globe touching its sun's all the way
round, and then the planet would very quickly be reduced
to vapour, and partly burned up, its substance being ab-
sorbed by its sun. But all the successive grazes would be
indicated to us by accessions in the star's lustre, the period
between each seeming outburst being only a few months
at first, and becoming gradually less and less (during a long

course of years, perhaps even of centuries), until the planet


was finally destroyed. Nothing of this sort has happened
in the case of any so-called new star.

As for the rush of a star through a nebulous mass, that


isa theory which would scarcely be entertained by any one
acquainted with the enormous distances separating the
St7MS IN FLAMES. I8i

gaseous star-clouds properly called nebulae. There may be


small clouds of the same sort scattered much more densely
through space; but we have not a particle of evidence
that this actually is the case. All we certainly know about
star-cloudlets suggest that the distances separating them
from each other are comparable with those which separate
star from star, in which case the idea of a star coming
into collision with a star-cloudlet, and still more the idea
of this occurring several times in a century, is wild in the
extreme.
On the whole, the theory seems more probable than
any of these, that enormous flights of large meteoric masses
travel around those stars which thus occasionally break
forth in conflagration, flights travelling on exceedingly
such
eccentric paths, and requiring enormously long periods to
complete each circuit of their vast orbits. In conceiving this,
we are not imagining anything new. Such a meteoric flight
would differ only in degree not kind from meteoric flights
which are known to circle around our own sun. I am not
sure, indeed, that it can be definitely asserted that our sun
has no meteoric appendages of the same nature as those
which, if this theory be true, excite to intense periodic activity
the sun round which they circle. We know that comets and
meteors are closely connected, every comet being probably
(many certainly) attended by flights of meteoric masses.
The meteors which produce the celebrated November
showers of falling stars follow in the track of a comet
invisible to the naked eye. May we not reasonably
suppose, then, that those glorious comets which have not
only been visible but conspicuous, shining even in the day-
time, and brandishing round tails which, like that of the
'wonder in heaven, the great dragon,' seemed to 'draw
the third part of the stars of heaven,' are followed by much
denser flights of much more massive meteors ? Now some
i82 Myths and marvels of astronomy.
among these giant comets have paths which carry them
very close to our sua Newton's comet, with its tail a
hundred millions of miles in length, all but grazed the sun's
globe. The comet of 1843, whose tail, says Sir J.

Herschel, '
stretched half-way across the sky,' must actually
have grazed the sun, though but lightly, for its nucleus was
within 80,000 miles of his surface, and its head was more
than 160,000 miles in diameter. And these are only two
among the few comets whose paths are known. At any
time we might be visited by a comet mightier than either,
travelling on an orbit intersecting the sun's surface, followed
by flights of meteoric masses enormous in size and many
in number, which, falling on the sun's globe with the
enormous velocity corresponding to their vast orbital range
and their near approach to the sun a velocity of some 360
miles per second would, beyond aU doubt, excite his
whole frame, and especially his surface regions, to a degree
of heat far exceeding what he now emits.
We have had evidence of the tremendous heat to which
the sun's surface would be excited by the downfall of a
shower of large meteoric masses. Carrington and Hodg-
son, on September i, 1859, observed (independently) the
passage of two intensely bright bodies across a small part
of the sun's surface the bodies first increasing in bright-
ness, then diminishing, then fading away. It is generally
believed that these were meteoric masses raised to fierce
heat by frictional resistance. Now so much brighter did
they appear, or rather did that part of the sun's surface
appear through which they had rushed, that Carrington
supposed the dark glass screen used to protect the eye had
broken, and Hodgson described the brightness of this part
of the sun as such that the part shone like a brilliant star
on the background of the glowing solar surface. Mark,
also, the consequences of the downfall of those two bodies
Sl7J\rS IN FLAMES. 183

only. A magnetic disturbance affected the whole frame of


the earth at the very time when the sun had been thus
disturbed. Vivid auroras were seen not only in both
hemispheres, but in latitudes where auroras are very seldom
witnessed. '
By degrees,' says Sir J. Herschel, '
accounts
began to pour in of great auroras seen not only in these
latitudes, but at Rome, in the West Indies, in the tropics
within eighteen degrees of the equator (where they hardly
ever appear) ; nay, what is still more striking, in South
America and in Australia where, at Melbourne, on the
night of September 2, the greatest aurora ever seen there
made its appearance. These auroras were accompanied
with unusually great electro-magnetic disturbances in every
part of the world. In many places the telegraph wires
struck work. They had too many private messages of their
own to convey. At Washington and Philadelphia, in
America, the electric signal-men received severe electric
shocks. At a station in Norway the telegraphic apparatus
was set fire to ; and at Boston, in North America, a flame
of fire followed the pen of Bain's electric telegraph, which
writes down the message upon chemically prepared paper.'

Seeing that where the two meteors fell the sun's surface
glowed thus intensely, and that the effect of this acces-
sion of energy upon our earth was thus well marked,
can it be doubted that a comet, bearing in its train a
flight of many millions of meteoric masses, and falling
directly upon the sun, would produce an accession of light

and heat whose consequences would be disastrous ? When


the earth has passed through the richer portions (not the ac-
tual nuclei, be it remembered) of meteor systems, the meteors
visible from even a single station have been counted by
tens of thousands, and it has been computed that millions
must have fallen upon the whole earth. These were
meteors following in the train of very small comets. If a
184 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
very large comet followed by no denser a flight of meteors,
but each meteoric mass much larger, fell directly upon the
sun, it would not be the outskirts but the nucleus of the
meteoric train which would impinge upon him. They
would number thousands of millions. The velocity of
downfall of each mass would be more than 360 miles per
second. And they would continue to pour in upon him
for several days in succession, millions falling every hour.
It seems not improbable that, under this tremendous and
long-continued meteoric hail, his whole surface would be
caused to glow as intensely as that small part whose
brilliancy was so surprising in the observation made by
Carrington and Hodgson. In that case, our sun, seen
from some remote star whence ordinarily he is invisible,
would shine out as a new sun, for a few days, while all
things living on our earth, and whatever other members of
the solar system are the abode of life, would inevitably be
destroyed.
The reader must not suppose that this idea has been
suggested merely in the attempt to explain outbursts of
stars. The following passage from a paper of considerable
scientific interest by Professor Kirkwood, of Bloomington,
Indiana, a well-known American astronomer, shows that .

the idea had occurred to him for a very different reason.


He speaks here of a probable connection between the
comet of 1843 and the great sun-spot which appeared in
June 1843. I am not sure, however, but that we may re-
gard the very meteors which seem to have fallen on the
sun on September i, 1859, as bodies travelling in the
track of the comet of 1843 ^just as the November meteors
seen in 1867-8, 9, etc., until 1872, were bodies certainly
following in the track of the telescopic comet of 1866.
'The opinion has been expressed by more than one
astronomer,' he says, speaking of Carrington's observation,
S17NS IN FLAMES. 185

'
that this phenomenon was produced by the fall of meteoric
matter upon the sun's surface. Now, the fact may be
worthy of note that the comet of 1843 actually grazed the
sun's atmosphere about three months before the appearance
of the great sun-spot of the same year. Had it approached
but little nearer, the resistance of the atmosphere would
probably have brought its entire mass to the solar surface.
Even at its actual distance it must have produced consider-
able atmospheric disturbance. But the recent discovery
that a number of comets are associated with meteoric
same orbits, suggests the
matter, travelling in nearly the
inquiry whether an enormous meteorite following in the
comet's train, and having a somewhat less perihelion dis-
tance, may not have been precipitated upon the sun, thus
producing the great disturbance observed so shortly after
the comet's perihelion passage.'
There are those, myself among the number, who con-
sider the periodicity of the solar spots, that tide of spots
which flows to its maximum and then ebbs to its minimum

more than eleven years, as only explicable on the


in a little
theory that a small comet having this period, and followed
by a meteor train, has a path intersecting the sun's surface.
In an article entitled '
The Sun a Bubble,' which appeared
in the 'Cornhill Magazine' for October 1874, I remarked
that from the observed phenomena of sun-spots we might
be led to suspect the existence of some as yet undetected
comet with a train of exceptionally large meteoric masses,
travelling in a period of about eleven years round the sun,
and having its place of nearest approach to that orb so
close to the solar surface that, when the main flight is

passing, the stragglers fall upon the sun's surface. In this

case, we could readily understand that, as this small comet


unquestionably causes our sun to be variable to some slight
degree in brilliancy, in a period of about eleven years, so
186 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
some much larger comet circling around Mira, in a period
of about 331 days, may occasion those alternations of
brightness which have been described above. It may be
noticed in passing, that it is by no means certain that the
time when the sun is most spotted is the time when he
gives out least light. Though at such times his surface is

dark where the spots are, yet elsewhere it is probably


brighter than usual ; at any rate, all the evidence we have
tends to show that when the sun is most spotted, his
energies are most active. It is then that the coloured
flames leap to their greatest height and show their greatest
brilliancy, then also that they show the most rapid and
remarkable changes of shape.
Supposing there really is, I will not say danger, but a
possibility, that our sun may one day, through the arrival
of some very large comet travelling directly towards him,
share the fate of the suns whose outbursts I have described
above, we might be destroyed unawares, or we might be
aware for several weeks of the approach of the destroying
comet. Suppose, for example, the comet, which might
arrive from any part of the heavens, came from out that
part of the star-depths which is occupied by the constella-
tion Taurus then, if the arrival were so timed that the
comet, which might reach the sun at any time, fell upon
him in May or June, we should know nothing of that
comet's approach : for it would approach in that part of
the heavens which was occupied by the sun, and his splen-
dour would hide as with a veil the destroying enemy. On
the other hand, if the comet, arriving from the same region
of the heavens, so approached as to fall upon the sun in
November or December, we should see it for several weeks.
For would then approach from the part of the heavens
it

high above the southern horizon at midnight.


Astronomers
would be able in a few days after it was discovered to
SUNS IN FLAMES. 187

determine its path and predict its dpwnfall upon the sun,
precisely as Newton calculated the path of his comet and
predicted its near approach to the sun. It would be known
for weeks then that the event which Newton contemplated
as likely to cause a tremendous outburst of solar heat,
competent to destroy all life .upon the surface of our earth,
was about to take place; and, doubtless, the minds of
many students of science would be exercised during that
interval in determining whether Newton was right or wrong.
For my own part, I have very little doubt that, though the
change in the sun's condition in consequence of the direct
downfall upon his surface of a very large comet would be
but temporary, and in that sense slight for what are a few
weeks in the history of an orb which has already existed
during thousands of millions of years ? yet the effect upon
the inhabitants of the earth would be by no means slight
I do not think, however, that any students of science

would remain, after the catastrophe, to estimate or to record


its effects.

Fortunately, all that we have learned hitherto from the


stars favours the belief that, while a catastrophe of this sort
may be possible, it is exceedingly unlikely. We may
estimate the probabilities precisely in the same way that an
insurance company estimates the chance of a railway
accident. Such a company considers the number of acci-
dents which occur among a given number of railway
journeys, and from the smallness of the number of acci-
dents compared with the largeness of the number of
journeys estimates the safety of railway travelling. Our
sun is one among many millions of suns, any one of which
(though all but a few thousands are actually invisible)

would become visible to the naked eye, if exposed to the

same conditions as have affected the suns in flames de-

scribed in the preceding pages. Seeing, then, that during


i88 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
the last two thousand years or thereabouts, only a few
instances of the kind, certainly not so many as twenty, have
been recorded, while there is reason to believe that some
of these relate to the same star which has blazed out more
than once, we may fairly consider the chance exceedingly
small that during the next two thousand, or even the next
twenty thousand years, our sun will be exposed to a catas-

trophe of the kind.


We might arrive at this conclusion independently of any
considerations tending to show that our sun belongs to a
safe class of system-rulers, and that all, or nearly all, the
great solar catastrophes have occurred among suns of a par-
ticular class. There are, however, several considerations of
the kind which are worth noting.
In the first place, we may dismiss as altogether unlikely
the visit of a comet from the star-depths to our sun, on a
course carrying the comet directly upon the sun's surface.
But if, among the comets travelling in regular attendance
upon the sun, there be one whose orbit intersects the sun's
globe, then that comet must several times ere this have
struck the sun, raising him temporarily to a destructive
degree of heat. Now, such a comet must have a period
of enormous length, for the races of animals now existing
upon the earth must all have been formed since that comet's
last visit
on the assumption, be it remembered, that the
fall of a large comet upon the sun, or rather the direct pas-

sage of the sun through the meteoric nucleus of a large


comet, would excite the sun to destructive heat. If all

living creatures on the earth are to be destroyed when some


comet belonging to the solar system makes its next return
to the sun, that same comet at its last visit must have
raised the sun to an equal, or even greater intensity of heat,
so that either no such races as at present exist had then
come into being, or, if any such existed, thev must at that

Sl7JfS IN FLAMES. 189

time have been utterly destroyed. We may fairly believe

that all comets of the destructive


have been eliminated.
sort
Judging from the evidence we have on the subject, the
process of the formation of the solar system was one which
involved the utilisation of cometic and meteoric matter;
and it fortunately so chanced that the comets likely other-
wise to have been most mischievous namely, which
those,
crossed the track of planets, and more
still whosethose
paths intersected the globe of the sunwere precisely those
which would be earliest and most thoroughly used up in
this way.

Secondly, it is noteworthy that all the stars which have


blazed out suddenly, except one, have appeared in a par-
ticular region of the heavens
the zone of the Milky Way
(aU, too, on one half of that zone). The single exception
is the star in the Northern Crown, and that star appeared

in a region which I have found to be connected with the

Milky Way by a well-marked stream of stars, not a stream


of a few stars scattered here and there, but a stream where
thousands of stars are closely aggregated together, though
not quite so closely as to form a visible extension of the
Milky Way. In my map of 324,000 stars this stream can
be quite clearly recognised j but, indeed, the brighter stars

scattered along it form a stream recognisable with the naked


eye, and have long since been regarded by astronomers as
such, forming the stars of the Serpentand the Crown, or a
serpentine streak followed by a loop of stars shaped like a
coronet. Now the Milky Way, and the outlying streams
of stars connected with it, seem to form a region of the
stellar universe where fashioning processes are still at work.

As Sir W. Herschel long since pointed out, we can


recognise in various parts of the heavens various stages of
development, and chief among the regions where as yet
Nature's work seems incomplete, is the Galactic zone
igo MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
especially that half of it where the Milky Way consists of

irregular streams and clouds of stellar light. As there is


no reason for believing that our sun belongs to this part
of the galaxy, but on the contrary good ground for consider-
ing that he belongs to the class of insulated stars, few of
which have shown signs of irregular variation, while none
have ever blazed suddenly out with many hundred times
their former lustre, we may fairly infer a very high degree
of probability in favour of the belief that, for many ages
still to come, the sun will continue steadily to discharge his
duties as fire, light, and life of the solar system.
THE RINGS OF SA TURU. 191

VII.

THE RIJVGS OF SATURN,


The rings of Saturn, always among the most interesting
objects of astronomical research, have recently been sub-
jected to close scrutiny under high telescopic powers by
Mr. Trouvelot, of the Harvard Observatory, Cambridge,
U.S. The results which he has obtained afford very
significant evidence respecting these strange appendages,
and even throw some degree of hght on the subject of
cosmical evolution. The present time, when Saturn is the
ruHng planet of the night, seems favourable for giving a
brief account of recent speculations respecting the Satur-
nian ring- system, especially as the observations of Mr.
Trouvelot appear to,remove all doubt as to the true nature
of the rings, if indeed any doubt could reasonably be en-
tertained after the investigations made by European and
American astronomers when the dark inner ring had but
recently been recognised.
It may be well to give a brief account of the progress
of observation from the time when the rings were first dis-

covered.
In passing, I may remark that the failure of Galileo to
ascertain the real shape of these appendages has always
seemed to me to afford striking evidence of the importance
of carefiil reasoning upon all observations whose actual
significance is not at once apparent If Galileo had been
1^2 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
thus careful to analyse his observations of Saturn, he could
not have failed to ascertain their real meaning. He had
seen the planet apparently attended by two large satellites,

one on either side, '


as though supporting the aged Saturn
upon his slow course around the sun.' Night after night
he had seen these attendants, always similarly placed, one
on either side of the planet, and at equal distances from it

Then he had again examined the planet, and lo,


in 1 6 1 2

the attendants had vanished, as though Saturn had been


'

and had devoured his children.' But after


at his old tricks,

a while the attendant orbs had reappeared in their former


positions, had seemed slowly to grow larger, until at length
they had presented the appearance of two pairs of mighty
arms encompassing the planet. If Galileo had reasoned
upon these changes of appearance, he could not have failed,
as it seems to me, to interpret their true meaning. The
three forms under which the rings had been seen by him
suflSced to indicate the true shape of the appendage. Be-
cause Saturn was seen with two attendants of apparently
equal size and always equi-distant from him, it was certain

that there must be some appendage surrounding him, and


extending to that distance from his globe. Because this

appendage disappeared, it was certain that it must be thin


and flat. Because it appeared at another time with a dark
space between the arms and the planet, it was certain that
the appendage is separated by a wide gap from the body
of the planet So that Galileo might have concluded not
doubtfully, but with assured confidence that the append-
age is a thin flat ring nowhere attached to the planet, or,
as Huyghens said some forty years later, Saturn '
annulo
ciiigitur tenui, piano, nusquavi cohtzrente.' Whether such
reasoning would have been accepted by the contemporaries
of Galileo may be doubtful The generality of men are not
content with reasoning which is logically sound, but require
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 193

evidence which they can easily understand Very likely


Huyghens' proof from direct observation, though in reality
not a whit more complete and far rougher, would have been
regarded as the first true proof of the existence of Saturn's
ring, just as Sir W. Herschel's observation of one star actu-
ally moving round another was regarded as the first true
proof of the physical association of certain stars, a fact which
Michell had proved as completely and far more neatly half
a century earlier, by a method, however, which was '
caviare
to the general.'
However, as matters chanced, the scientific world was
not called upon between the merits of a discovery
to decide
made by direct observation and one effected by means of
abstract reasoning. It was not uhtil Saturn had been
examined with much higher telescopic power than Galileo
could employ, that the appendage which had so perplexed
the Florentine astronomer was seen to be a thin flat ring,
nowhere touching the planet, and considerably inclined to
the plane in which Saturn travels. We cannot wonder that
the discovery was regarded as a most interesting one.
Astronomers had heretofore had to deal with solid masses,
either known to be spheroidal, like the earth, the sun, the

moon, Jupiter, and Venus, or presumed to be so, like the


stars. The comets might be judged to be vaporous masses
of various forms ; but even these were supposed to sur-
round or to attend upon globe-shaped nuclear masses.
Here, however, in the case of Saturn's ring, was a quoit-
shaped body travelling around the sun in continual attend-
ance upon Saturn, whose motions, no matter how they
varied in velocity or direction, were so closely followed by
this strange attendant that the planet remained always
centrally poised within the span of its ring-girdle. To
appreciate the interest with which this strange phenomenon
was regarded, we must remember that as yet the law of
o
194 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
gravity had not been recognised. Huyghens discovered
the ring (or rather perceived its nature) in 1659, but it was
not till 1666 that Newton first entertained the idea that
the moon is retained in its orbit about the earth by the
attractive energy which causes unsupported bodies to fall

earthwards ; and he was unable to demonstrate the law of


gravity before 1684. Now, in a general sense, we can
readily understand in these days how a ring around a
planet continues to travel along with the planet despite all

changes of velocity or direction of motion. For the law of


gravity teaches that the same causes which tend to change
the direction and velocity of the planet's motion tend in
precisely the same degree to change the direction and
velocity of the ring's motion.But when Huyghens made
his discovery must have appeared a most mysterious
it

circumstance that a ring and planet should be thus con-


stantly associated that during thousands of years no
collision should have occurred whereby the relatively deli-

cate structure of the ring had been destroyed.


Only six years later a discovery was made by two
English observers, William and Thomas Ball, which en-
hanced the mystery. Observing the northern face of the
ring, which was at that time turned earthwards, they per-
ceived a black stripe of considerable breadth dividing the
ring into two concentric portions. The discovery did not
attract so much attention
it deserved, insomuch that
as
when announced the discovery of
Cassini, ten years later,
a corresponding dark division on the southern surface,
none recalled the observation made by the brothers Ball
Cassini expressed the opinion that the ring is really divided
into two, not merely marked by a dark stripe on its

southern face. This conclusion would, of course, have


been an assured one, had the previous observation of a
dark division on the northern face been remembered.
;'

THE RINGS OF SATURN. 195

With the knowledge which we now possess, indeed, the


darkness of the seeming stripe would be sufficient evidence
that there must be a real division there between the rings
for we know that no mere darkness of the ring's substance
could account for the apparent darkness of the stripe. It
has been well remarked by Professor Tyndall, that if the
moon's whole surface could be covered with black velvet,
she would yet appear white when seen on the dark back-
ground of the sky. And it may be doubted whether a
circular strip of black velvet 2000 miles wide, placed
where we see the dark division between the rings, would
appear nearly as dark as that division. Since we could
only admit the possibility of some substance resembling our
darker rocks occupying thisposition (for we know of
nothing to justify the supposition that a substance as dark
as lampblack or black velvet could be there), we are
manifestly precluded from supposing that the dark space
is other than a division between two distinct rings.
Yet Sir W. Herschel, in examining the rings of Saturn
with his powerful telescopes, for a long time favoured the
theory that there is no real division. He called it the
'
broad black mark,' and argued that it can neither indicate
the existence of a zone of hills upon the ring, nor of a vast
cavernous groove, for in either case it would present changes

of appearance (according to the ring's changes of position)


such as he was unable to detect It was not until the year

1790, eleven years after his observations had commenced,


that, perceiving a corresponding broad black mark upon

the ring's southern face, Herschel expressed a ' suspicion


that the ring is divided into two concentric portions by a
circular gap nearly 2000 miles in width. He expressed at
the same time, very strongly, his belief that this division
was the only one in Saturn's ring-system.
A special interest attached at that time to the question
196 MY'IHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
whether the ring is divided or not, for Laplace had then
recently published the results of his mathematical inquiry
into the movements of such a ring as Saturn's, and, having
proved that a single solid ring of such enormous width
could not continue to move around the planet, had
expressed the opinion that Saturn's ring consists in reality
of many concentric rings, each turning, with its own proper
rotation rate, around the central planet. It is singular
that Herschel, who, though not versed in the methods of
the higher mathematics, had considerable native power as
a mathematician, was unable to perceive the force of
Laplace's reasoning. Indeed, this is one of those cases
where clearness of perception rather than profundity of
mathematical insight was required. Laplace's equations
of motion did not express all the relations involved, nor
was it possible to judge, from the results he deduced, how
far the stability of the Satumian rings depended on the
real structure of these appendages. One who was well
acquainted with mechanical matters, and sufficiently versed
in mathematics to understand how to estimate generally
the forces acting upon the ring-system, could have per-
ceived as readily the general conditions of the problem as
the most profound mathematician. One may compare the
case to the problem of determining whether the action of
the moon in causing the tidal wave modifies in any manner
the earth's motion of rotatioa We know that as a mathe-
matical question this is a very difficult one. The
Astronomer Royal, for example, not long ago dealt with
it analytically, and deduced the conclusion that there is no
effect on the earth's rotation, presently however, discovering
by a lucky chance a term in the result which indicates an
effect of that kind. But if we look at the matter in its

mechanical aspect, we perceive at once, without any pro-


found mathematical research, that the retardation so hard
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 197

to detect mathematically must necessarily take place. As


Sir E. Beckett says in his masterly work, Astronomy with-
out Mathematics, 'the conclusion is as evident without
mathematics as with them, when once it has been suggested.'
So when we consider the case of a wide flat ring surround-
ing a mighty planet like Saturn, we perceive that nothing
could possibly save such a ring from destruction if it were
really one solid structure.
To recognise this the more clearly, let us first notice the

dimensions of the planet and rings.


We have in Saturn a globe about 70,000 miles in mean
diameter, an equatorial diameter being about 73,000 miles,
the polar diameter 66,000 miles. The attractive force of

this mighty mass upon bodies placed on its surface is equal


to about one-fifth more than terrestrial gravity if the body
is near the pole of Saturn, and is almost exactly the same as
terrestrial gravity if the body is at the planet's equator. Its

action on the matter of the ring is, of course, very much


less, because of the increased distance, but still a force is

exerted on every part of the ring which is comparable with


the familiar force of terrestrial gravity. The outer edge of
the outer ring lies about 83,500 miles from the planet's
centre, the inner edge of the inner ring (I speak through-
out of the ring-system as known to Sir W. Herschel and
Laplace) about 54,500 miles from the centre, the breadth
of the system of bright rings being about 29,000 miles.
Between the planef s equator and the inner edge of the
innermost bright ring there intervenes a space of about
20,000 miles. Roughly speaking, it may be said that the
attraction of the planet on the substance of the ring's inner
edge is less than gravity at Saturn's equator (or, which is
almost exactly the same thing, is less than terrestrial

gravity) in about the proportion of 9 to 20; or, still more


roughly, the iimer edge of Saturn's inner bright ring is
198 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
drawn inwards by about half the force of gravity at the
The outer edge is drawn towards Saturn
earth's surface.

by a force less than terrestrial gravity in the proportion of


about 3 to 1 6 say roughly that the force thus exerted by
Saturn on the matter of the outer edge of the ring-system
is equivalent to about one-fifth of the force of gravity at
the earth's surface.
It is clear, first, that if the ring-system did not rotate,
the forces thus acting on the material of the rings would
immediately break them into fragments, and, dragging these
down to the planet's equator, would leave them scattered
in heaps upon that portion of Saturn's surface. The ring
would in fact be in that case like a mighty arch, each por-
tion of which would be drawn towards Saturn's centre by
its own weight. This weight would be enormous if Bessel's

estimate of the mass of the ring-system is correct He


made the mass of the ring rather greater than the mass of
the earth an estimate which I believe to be greatly in
excess of the truth. Probably the rings do not amount in
mass to more than a fourth part of the earth's mass. But
even that is enormous, and subjected as is the material of
the rings to forces varying fi-om one-half to a fifth of terres-
trial gravity, the strains and pressures upon the various parts
of the system would exceed thousands of times those which
even the strongest material built up into their shape could
resist The system would no more be able to resist such
strains and pressures than an arch of iron spanning the
Atlantic would be able to sustain its own weight against
the earth's attraction.
It would be necessary then that the ring-system should
rotate around the planet. But it is clear that the proper
rate of rotation for the outer portion would be very dif-

ferent firom the rate suited for the inner portion. In order
that the inner portion should travel around Saturn entirely
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 199

relieved of its weight,


it should complete a revolution in

about seven hours twenty-three minutes. The outer por-


tion, however, should revolve in about thirteen hours fifty-

eight minutes, or nearly fourteen hours. Thus the inner


part should rotate in little more than half the time required
by the outer part. The
would necessarily be that
result
the ring-system would be affected by tremendous strains,
which it would be quite unable to resist. The existence
of the great division would manifestly go far to diminish
the strains. It is easily shown that the rate of turning
where the division is, would be once
in about eleven hours
and twenty-five minutes, not differing greatly from the mean
between the rotation-periods for the outside and for the
Even then, however, the strains
inside edges of the system.
would be hundreds of times greater than the material of
the ring could resist. A mass comparable in weight to our
earth, compelled to rotate in (say) nine hours when it ought
to rotate in eleven or in seven, would be subjected to
strains exceeding many times the resistances which the
cohesive power of its That would
substance could afford.
be the condition of the inner manner
ring. And in like
the outer ring, if it rotated in about twelve hours and three-
quarters, would have its outer portions rotating too fast and
its inner portions too slowly, because their proper periods
would be fourteen hours and eleven hours and a half
respectively. Nothing but the division of the ring into a
number of narrow hoops could possibly save it from destruc-
tion through the internal strains and pressures to which its
material would be subjected.
Even this complicated arrangement, however, would not
save the ring-system. If we suppose a fine hoop to turn
around a central attracting body as the rings of Saturn
rotate around the planet, it may be shown that unless the

hoop is so weighted that its centre of gravity is far from the


;

400 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.


planet, there will be no stability in the resulting motions
the hoop will before long be made to rotate eccentrically,
and eventually be brought intq destructive collision with

the central planet.


It was here that Laplace left the problem. Nothing
could have been more unsatisfactory than his result, though
it was accepted for nearly half a century unquestioned.
He had shown that a weighted fine hoop may possibly turn
around a central attracting mass without destructive changes
of position, but he had not proved more than the bare
possibility of this, while nothing in the appearance of
Saturn's rings suggests that any such arrangement exists.

Again, manifestly a multitude of narrow hoops, so com-


bined as to form a broad flat system of rings, would be
constantly in collision inter se. Besides, each one of them
would be subjected to destructive strains. For though a
fine uniform hoop set rotating at a proper rate around an
attracting mass at its centre would be freed fi-om all strains,

the case is very different with a hoop so weighted as to


have its centre of gravity greatly displaced. Laplace had
saved the theoretical stability of the motions of a fine ring
at the expense of the ring's power of resisting the strains to
which it would be exposed. It seems incredible that such
a result (expressed, too, very doubtingly by the distinguished
mathematician who had obtained it) should have been
accepted so long almost without question. There is

nothing in nature in the remotest degree resembling the


arrangement imagined by Laplace, which indeed appears
on d priori grounds impossible. It was not claimed for it
that it removed the original difficulties of the problem;
and it introduced others fully as serious. So strong, how-
ever, is authority in the scientific world that none ventured
to express any doubts except Sir W. Herschel, who simply
denied that the two rings were divided into many, as
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 201

Laplace's theory required As time went on and the signs


of many divisions were at times recognised, it was supposed
that Laplace's reasoning had been justified ; and despite the
utter impossibility of the arrangement he had suggested, that
arrangement was ordinarily described as probably existing.

At length, however, a discovery was made which caused


the whole question to be reopened.
On November 10, 1850, W. Bond, observing the planet
with the telescope of the Harvard Observatory, perceived
within the inner bright ring a feeble illumination which he
was at a loss to understand. On the next night the faint
light was better seen.On the isth, Tuttle, who was ob-
serving withBond, suggested the idea that the light within
the inner bright ring was due to a dusky ring inside the
system of bright rings. On November
25, Mr. Dawes in
England perceived this and announced the dis-
dusky ring,

covery before the news had reached England that Bond


had already seen the dark ring. The credit of the discovery
is usually shared between Bond and Dawes, though the

usual rule in such matters would assign the discovery to


Bond alone. It was found that the dark ring had already
been seen at Rome so far back as 1828, and again by Galle
at Berlin in May 1838. The Roman observations were not
satisfactory. Those by Galle, however, were sufficient to
have established the fact of the ring's existence ; indeed, in
1839 Galle measured the dark ring. But very little atten-

tion was attracted to this interesting discovery, insomuch


that when Bond and Dawes announced their observation

of the dark ring in 1850, the news was received by astro-

nomers with all the interest attaching to the detection of


before unnoted phenomena.
It may be well to notice under what conditions the dark
ring was detected in 1850. In September 1848 the ring
had been turned edgewise towards the sun, and as rather
Z02 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
more than seven years are occupied in the apparent gradual

opening out of the ring from that edge view to its most
open appearance (when the outline of the ring-system is an
eclipse whose lesser axis is nearly equal to half the greater),
it will be seen that in November 1850 the rings were but
slightly opened. Thus the recognition of the dark ring
within the bright made under unfavourable
system was
conditions. For four preceding years ^that is, from the
year 1846
the rings had been as little or less opened ; and
again for several years preceding 1846, though the rings
had been more open, the planet had been unfavourably
placed for observation in northern latitudes, crossing the
meridian at low altitudes. Still, in 1838 and 1839, when
the rings were most open, although the planet was never
seen under favourable conditions, the opening of the rings,
then nearly at its greatest, made the recognition of the
dark ring possible ; and we have seen that Galle then
made the discovery. When Bond rediscovered the dark
ring, everything promised that before long the appendage
would be visible with telescopes far inferior in power to
the great Harvard refractor. Year after year the planet
was becoming more favourably placed for observation,
while all the time the rings were opening out. Accord-
ingly it need not surprise us to learn that in 1853 the dark
ring was seen with a telescope less than three inches and a
half in aperture. Even so early as 1851, Mr. Hartnup,
observing the planet with a telescope eight inches and a
half in aperture, found that '
the dark ring could not - be
overlooked for an instant'
But while this increase in the distinctness of the dark
ring was to be expected, from the mere fact that the ring
was discovered under relatively unfavourable conditions,
yet the fact that Saturn was thus found to have an appen-
dage of a remarkable character, perfectly obvious even
THE RINGS OF SATURN. J03

with moderate telescopic power, was manifestly most sur-


prising. The planet had been studied for nearly two cen-
turies with telescopes exceeding in power those with which
the dark ring was now perceived. Some among these
telescopes were not only of great power, but employed by
observers of the utmost skill. The elder Herschei had for
a quarter of a century studied Saturn with his great re-
flectors eighteen inches in aperture, and had at times
turned on the planet his monstrous (though not mighty)
four-feet mirror. Schroter had examined the dark space
within the inner bright ring for the special purpose of
determining whether the ring-system is really disconnected
from the globe. He had used a mirror nineteen inches in
aperture, and he had observed that the dark space seen on
either side of Saturn inside the ring-system not only ap-
peared dark, but actually darker than the surrounding sky.
This was presumably (though not quite certainly) an effect

of contrast only, the dark space being bounded all round


by bright surfaces. If real, the phenomenon signified that
whereas the space outside the ring, where the satellites of

the planet travel, was occupied by some sort of cosmical

dust, the space within the ring -system was, as it were,


swept and garnished, as though all the scattered matter
which might otherwise have occupied that region had been
body of the planet or to the rings. 1
either attracted to the
But manifestly the observation was entirely inconsistent
with the supposition that there existed in Schroter's time a
dark or dusky ring within the bright system. Again, the
elder Struve made the most careful measurement of the
whole of the ring-system in 1826, when the system was as

' The same peculiarity has been noticed since the discovery of the
dark ring, the space within that ring being observed by Coolidge and
G. Bond at Harvard in 1856 to be apparently darker than the surround-

ing sky.
204 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
well placed tor observation as in 1856 (or, in other words,
as well placed as it can possibly be) ; but though he used
a telescope nine inches and a half in aperture, and though
his attention was specially attracted to the inner edge of
the inner bright ring (which seemed to him indistinct), he
did not detect the dark ring. Yet we have seen that in

1851, under much less favourable conditions, a less prac-


tised observer, using a telescope of less aperture, found that
the dark ring could not be overlooked for an instant It

is manifest that all these considerations point to the con-


clusion that the dark ring is a new formation, or, at the
least, that it has changed notably in condition during the
present century.
I have hitherto only considered the appearance of the
dusky ring as seen on either side of the planet's globe
within the bright rings. The most remarkable feature of the
appendage remains still to be mentioned the fact, namely,
that the bright body of the planet can be seen through this

dusky ring. Where the dark ring crosses the planet, it

appears as a rather dark belt, which might readily be mis-


taken for a belt upon the planet's surface ; for the outUne
of the planet can be seen through the ring as through a
film of smoke or a crape veil.

Now it is worthy of notice that whereas the dark ring


was not detected outside the planet's body until 1838, nor
generally recognised by astronomers until 1850, the dark
belt across the planet, really caused by the dusky ring,
was observed more than a century earlier. In 17 15 the
younger Cassini saw it, and perceived that it was not
curved enough for a belt really belonging to the planet
Hadley again observed that the belt attended the ring as
this opened out and closed, or, in other words, that the dark
belt belonged to the ring, not to the body of the planet
And in many pictures of Saturn's system a dark band is
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 205

shown along the inner edge of the inner bright ring where
It crosses the body of the planet. It seems to me that we
have here a most important piece of evidence respecting
the rings. It is clear that the inner part of the inner
more than a century and a half (how
bright ring has for
much more we do not know) been partially transparent,
and it is probable that within its inner edge there has been
all the time a ring of matter ; but this ring has only within
the last half-century gathered consistency enough to be
discernible. It is manifest that the existence of the dark
belt shown in the older pictures would have led directly to
the detection of the dark ring, had not this appendage
been exceedingly faint. Thus, while the observation of
the dark belt across the planet's face proves the dusky ring
to have existed in some form long before it was perceived,
the same fact only helps to render us certain that the dark
ring has changed notably in condition during the present
century.
The discovery of this singular appendage, an object
unique in the solar system, naturally attracted fresh atten-
tion to the question of the stability of the rings. The idea
was thrown out by the elder Bond new ring may
that the
be fluid, or even that the whole ring-system may be fluid,
and the dark ring simply thinner than the rest. It was
thought possible that the ring-system is of the nature of a
vast ocean, whose waves are steadily advancing upon the
planet's globe. The mathematical investigation of the
subject was also resumed by Professor Benjamin Pierce, of
Harvard, and it was satisfactorily demonstrated that the
stability of a system of actual rings of solid matter required

so nice an adjustment of so many narrow rings as to render


the system far more complex than even Laplace had sup-
posed. '
A stable formation can,' he said, '
be nothing
other than a very great number of separate narrow rigid
2o6 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
rings, each revolving with its proper relative velocity.' As
was well remarked by the late Professor Nichol, ' If this
arrangement or anything like it were real, how many new
conditions of instability do we introduce. Observation
tells us that the division between such rings must be ex-
tremely narrow, so that the slightest disturbance by external
or internal causes would cause one ring to impinge upon
another; and we should thus have the seed of perpetual
catastrophes.' Nor would such a constitution protect the
system against dissolution. '
There is no escape from the
difficulties, therefore, but through the final rejection of the
idea that Saturn's rings are rigid or in any sense a solid
formation.'
The idea that the ring-system may be fluid came natu-
rally next under mathematical scrutiny. Strangely enough,
the physical objections to the theory of fluidity appear to
have been entirely overlooked. Before we could accept
such a theory, we must admit the existence of elements
differing entirely from those with which we are familiar.

No fluid known to us could retain the form of the rings of


Saturn under the conditions to which they are exposed.
But the mathematical examination of the subject disposed
so thoroughly of the theory that the rings can consist of
continuous fluid masses, that we need not now discuss the
physical objections to the theory.
There remains only the theory that the Saturnian ring-
system consists of discrete masses analogous to the streams
of meteors known to exist in great numbers within the
solar system. The masses may be solid or fluid, may be
strewn in relatively vacant space, or may be surrounded by
vaporous envelopes ; but that they are discrete, each free to
travel on its own course, seemed as completely demon-
strated by Pierce's calculations as anything not actually
admitting of direct observation could possibly be. The
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 207

matter was placed beyond dispute by the independent


analysis to which Clerk Maxwell subjected the mathemat-
ical problem. It had been selected in 1855 as the subject
for the Adams Prize Essay at Cambridge, and Clerk
Maxwell's essay, which obtained the prize, showed conclu-
sively that only a system of many small bodies, each free
to travel upon its course under the varying attractions to
which it was subjected by Saturn itself, and by the Satur-
nian satelUtes, could possibly continue to girdle a planet as
the rings of Saturn girdle him.
It is clear that all the peculiarities hitherto observed in
the Saturnian ring-system are explicable so soon as we
regard that system as made up of multitudes of small
bodies. Varieties of brightness simply indicate various
degrees of condensation of these small satellites. Thus the
outer ring had long been observed to be less bright than
the inner. Of course it did not seem impossible that the
outer ring might be made of different materials ;
yet there
was something bizarre in the supposition that two rings
forming the same system were thus different in substance.
It would not have been at all noteworthy if different parts

of the same ring differed in luminosity-


in fact, it was much

more remarkable that each zone of the system seemed


uniformly bright all round. But that one zone should be
of one tint, another of an entirely different tint, was a
strange circumstance so long as the only available inter
pretationseemed to be that one zone was made (through
out) of one substance, the other of another. If this was

strange when the difference between the inner and outer


bright ringswas alone considered, how much stranger did
itseem when the multitudinous divisions in the rings were
taken into account Why should the ring-system, 30,000
1

miles in width, be thus divided into zones of different


material ? An arrangement so artificial is quite unUke all
208 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
that is elsewhere seen among the subjects of the astro-
nomer's researches. But when the rings are regarded as
made up of multitudes of small bodies, we can quite readily
understand how the nearly circular movements of all of
these, at different rates, should result in the formation of
rings of aggregation and rings of segregation, appearing at
the earth's distance as bright rings and faint rings. The
dark ring clearly corresponds in appearance with a ring of
thinly scattered satellites. Indeed, it seems impossible
otherwise to account for the appearance of a dusky belt
across the globe of the planet where the dark ring crosses
the disc. If the material of the dark ring were some partly
transparent solid or fluid substance, the light of the planet
received through the dark ring added to the light reflected
by the dark ring itself, would be so nearly equivalent to

the light received from the rest of the planet's disc, that
either no dark belt would be seen, or the darkening would
be barely discernible. In some positions a bright belt
would be seen, not a dark one. But a ring of scattered
satellites would cast as its shadow a multitude of black

spots, which would give to the belt in shadow a dark grey


aspect A considerable proportion of these spots would be
hidden by the satellites forming the dark ring, and in
every case where a spot was wholly or partially hidden by
a satellite, the effect (at our distant station where the
separate satellites of the dark ring are not discernible)
would simply be to reduce fro tanto the darkness of the
grey belt of shadow. But certainly more than half the
shadows of the satellites would remain in sight ; for the
darkness of the ring at the time of its discovery showed
that the satellites were very sparsely strewn. And these
shadows would be sufficient to give to the belt a dusky hue^
such as it presented when first discovered.^
> I cannot understand why Mr. Webb, in his interestine little
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 209

The observations which have recently been made by


Mr. Trouvelot indicate changes in the rmg- system, and
especially in the dark ring, which place every other theory
save that to which we have thus been
led entirely out of
the question. should be noted that Mr. Trouvelot has
It

employed telescopes of unquestionable excellence and vary-


ing in aperture from six inches to twenty-sis inches, the
latteraperture being that of the great telescope of the Wash-
ington Observatory (the largest refractor in the world).
He has noted in the first place that the interior edge of
the outer bright ring, which marks the outer limit of the
great division, is irregular, but whether the irregularity is

permanent or not he does not know. The great division


itself is found not to be actually black, but, as was long

since noted by Captain Jacob, of the Madras Observatory,


a very dark brown, as though a few scattered satellites
travelled along this relatively vacant zone of the system.
Mr. Trouvelot has further noticed that the shadow of the
planet upon the rings, and especially upon the outer ring,
changes continually in shape, a circumstance which he
attributes to irregularities in the surface of the rings. For
my own part, I should be disposed to attribute these changes

in the shape of the planet's shadow (noted by other ob-


servers also) to rapid changes in the deep cloud-laden
atmosphere of the planet. Passing on, however, to less
doubtful observations, we find that the whole system of
rings has presented a clouded and spotted aspect during
the last four years. Mr. Trouvelot specially describes this
appearance as observed on the parts of the ring outside the

work, Celestial Objects for Common Telescopes, says that the satellite
theory of the rings certainly seems insufficient to account for the pheno-
mena of the dark ring. It seems, on the contrary, manifest that the
dark ring can scarcely be explained in any other way. The observa-
tions recently made are altogether inexplicable on any other theory.

P
210 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
disc, called by astronomers the ansa (because of their re-

semblance to handles), and it would seem, therefore, that

the spotted and cloudy portions are seen only where the
background on which the rings are projected is black. This
circumstance clearly suggests that the darkness of these
parts is due to the background, or, in other words, that the
sky is in reality seen through those parts of the ring-system,
just as the darkness of the slate-coloured interior ring is

attributed, on the satellite theory, to the background of sky


visible through the scattered flight of satellites forming the
dark ring. The matter composing the dark ring has been
observed by Mr. Trouvelot to be gathered in places into
compact masses, which prevent the light of the planet from
being seen through those portions of the dark ring where
the matter is thus massed together. It is clear that such
peculiarities could not possibly present themselves in the
case of a continuous solid or fluid ring-system, whereas they
would naturally occur in a ring formed of multitudes of
minute bodies travelling freely around the planet
The point next to be mentioned is still more decisive.
When the dark ring was carefully examined with powerful
telescopes during the ten years following its discovery by
Bond, at which time it was most favourably placed for
observation, it was observed that the outline of the planet
could be seen across the entire breadth of the dark ring.

All the observations agreed in this respect. It was, indeed,


noticed by Dawes that outside the planet's disc the dark
ring showed varieties of tint, its inner half being darker
than its outer portion. Lassell, observing the planet under
most favourable conditions with his two-feet mirror at Malta,
could not perceive these varieties of tint, which therefore
we may judge to have been either not permanent or very
slightly marked. But, as I have said, all observers agreed
that the outline of the planet could be seen athwart the
THE RINGS OF SATURN. 211

entire width of the dark ring. Mr. Trouvelot, however,


has found that during the last four years the planet has not
been visible through the whole width of the dark ring, but
only through the inner half of the ring's breadth. It appears,
then, that either the inner portion is getting continually
thinner and thinner
that is, the satellites composing it are
becoming continually more sparsely strewn or that the
outer portion is becoming more compact, doubtless by
receiving stray satellites from the interior of the inner
bright ring.
It is clear that in Saturn's ring-system, if not in tht
planet itself, mighty changes are still taking place. It may
be that the rings are being so fashioned under the forces to
which they are subjected as to be on their way to becoming
changed into separate satellites, inner members of that
system which at present consists of eight secondary planets.
But, whatever may be the end towards which these changes
are tending, we see processes of evolution taking place which
may be regarded as typifying the more extensive and prob-
ably more energetic processes whereby the solar system
itself reached its present condition. I ventured more than

ten years ago, in the preface to my treatise upon the planet


Saturn, to suggest the possibility '
that in the variations
perceptibly proceeding in the Saturnian ring-system a key
may one day be found to the law of development under
which the solar system has reached its present condition.'
This suggestion seems to me strikingly confirmed by the
recent discoveries. The planet Saturn and its appendages,
always interesting to astronomers, are found more than ever
worthy of close investigation and scrutiny. We may here,

as it were, seize nature in the act, and trace out the actual
progress of developments which at present are matters
rather of theory than of observation.
; ;

MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.

VIII.

COAfETS AS PORTENTS.
The blazing star,
Threat'ning the world with famine, plague, and war j

To princes death to kingdoms many curses


;

To all estates inevitable losses


To herdsmen rot to ploughmen hapless seasons
; ;

To sailors storms to cities civil treasons.


;

Although comets are no longer regarded with supersti


tious awe as in old times, mystery still clings to them.
Astronomers can tell what path a comet is travelling upon,
and say whence it has come and whither it will go, can
even in many cases predict the periodic returns of a comet,
can analyse the substance of these strange wanderers, and
have recently discovered a singular bond of relationship
between comets and those other strange visitants from the
celestial depths, the shooting stars. But astronomy has
hitherto proved unable to determine the origin of comets,
the part they perform in the economy of the universe, their
real structure, the causes of the marvellous changes of
shape which they undergo as they approach the sun, rush
round him, and then retreat. As Sir John Herschel has
remarked :
' No one, hitherto, has been able to assign any
single point in which we should be a bit better or worse
off, materially speaking, if there were no such thing as a

comet Persons, even thinking persons, have busied them


COMETS AS PORTENTS. 213

selves with conjectures ; such as that they may serve for


fuel for the sun (into which, however, they never fall), or
that they may cause warm summers, which is a mere fancy,
or that they may give rise to epidemics, or potato-blights,
and so forth.' And though, as he justly says, this is all '

wild talking,' yet it will probably continue until astro-

nomers have been able to master the problems respecting


comets which hitherto have foiled their best efforts. The
unexplained has ever been and will ever be marvellous to
the general mind. Just as unexplored regions of the
earth have been tenanted in imagination by

anthropophagi and men whose heads


Do grow beneath their shoulders, ,

so do wondrous possibilities exist in the unknown and the

iU-understood phenomena of nature.


In old times, when the appearance and movements of
comets were supposed ts be altogether uncontrolled by
physical laws, it was natural that comets should be regarded
as signs from heaven, tokens of Divine wrath towards some,
and of the interposition of Divine providence in favour o<^
others. As Seneca well remarked There is no man so
:
'

dull, so obtuse, so turned to earthly things, who does not


direct all the powers of his mind towards things Divine
when some novel phenomenon appears in the heavens.
While all follows its usual course up yonder, familiarity
robs the spectacle of its grandeur. For so is man made.
However wonderful may be what he sees day after day, he
looks on it with indifference ; while matters of very little
importance attract and interest him if they depart from
the accustomed order. The host of heavenly constellations
beneath the vault of heaven, whose beauty they adorn,
attract no attention; but if any unusual appearance be
noticed among them, at once all 'eyes are turned heaven-
;

214 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMr.


wards. The sun is only looked on with interest when he
is undergoing eclipse.Men observe the moon only under
like conditions. ... So thoroughly is it a part of our
nature to admire the new. rather than the great The
same is true of comets. When one of these fiery bodies of
unusual form appears, every one is eager to know what it
means ; men forget other objects to inquire about the new
arrivalthey know not whether to wonder or to tremble
;

formany spread fear on all sides, drawing from the pheno-


menon most grave prognostics.'
There is no direct reference to comets in the Bible,
either in the Old Testament or the New. It is possible

that some of the signs from heaven recorded in the Bible


pages were either comets or meteors, and that even where
in some places an angel or messenger from God is said to
have appeared and delivered a message, what really happened
was that some remarkable phenomenon in the heavens was
interpreted in a particular manner by the priests, and the
interpretation afterwards described as the message of an
angel. The image of the flaming sword which turned
'

every way' may have been derived from a comet but we ;

can form no safe conclusion about this, any more than we


can upon the question whether the '
horror of great dark-
ness' which upon Abraham (Genesis xv. 12) when the
fell

sun was going down, was caused by an eclipse ;' or whether


the going back of the shadow upon the dial of Ahaz was

' A gentleman, whose acquaintance I made in returning from


America last spring, assured me that he had found demonstrative
evidence showing that a total eclipse of the moon then occurred ; for
he could prove that Abraham's vision occurred at the time of fall moon,
so that it could not otherwise have been dark when the sun went
down (v. 17). But the horror of great darkness occurred when the sun
was going down, and total eclipses of the moon do not behave that
way at least, in our time.
'

COMETS AS PORTENTS. 215

caused by a mock sun. The star seen by the wise men


from the east may have been a comet, since the word trans-
lated '
any bright object seen in the heavens
star' signifies

and is same word which Homer, in a passage


in fact the
frequently referred to, uses to signify either a comet or a
meteor. The way in which it appeared to go before them,
when (directed by Herod, be it noticed) they went to
Bethlehem, almost due south of Jerusalem, would corre-
spond to a meridian culmination low down for the star had
manifestly not been visible in the earlier evening, since we
are told that they rejoiced when they saw the star again.
It was probably a comet travelling southwards ; and, as the
wise men had travelled from the east, it had very likely

been first seen in the west as an evening star, wherefore its

course was retrograde that is, supposing it was a comet


It may possibly have been an apparition of Halley's comet,
following a course somewhat similar to that which it followed
1835, when the perihelion passage was made on
in the year
November 15, and the comet running southwards dis-
appeared from northern astronomers, though in January it

was '
received'' by Sir J. Herschel, to use his own expression,
'
in the southern hemisphere.' There was an apparition of
Halley's comet in the year 66, or seventy years after the
Nativity ; and the period of the comet varies, according to
the perturbing influences affecting the comet's motion, fi-om
sixty-nine to eighty years.
Homer does not, to the best of my recollection, refer

' It is not easy to understand what else it could have been. The
notion that a conjunction of three planets, which took place shortly
before the time of Christ's birth, gave rise to the tradition of the star in
Ihe east, though propounded by a former president of the Astronomical
Society, could hardly be entertained by an astronomer, unless he
entirely rejected Matthew's account, which the author of this theory,

being a clergyman, can scarcely have done.



2i6 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
anywhere directly to comets. Pope, indeed, who made
very free with Homer's references to the heavenly bodies,'
introduces a comet
and a red one, too into the simile !
of the heavenly portent in Book IV. :

As the red comet from Saturnius sent


To fright the nations with a dire portent
(A fatal sign to armies in the plain,
Or trembling sailors on the wintry main).
With sweeping glories glides along in air,
And shakes the sparkles from its blazing hair :

Between two armies thus, in open sight.

Shot the bright goddess in a trail of light.

But Homer says nothing of this comet If Homer had


introduced a comet, we may be sure it would not have
shaken sparkles from its blazing tail Homer said simply
that '
Pallas rushed from the peaks of heaven, like the
bright star sent by the son of crafty-counselled Kronus (as

a sign either to sailors, or the broad array ol the nations),


from which many sparks proceed.' Strangely enough,
Pingrd and Lalande, the former noted for his researches
into ancient comets, the latter a skilfiil astronomer, agree
in considering that Homer really referred to a comet, and
they even regard this comet as an apparition of the comet

' As, for instance, when he makes Homer say of the moon that

Around her throne the vivid planets roll.


And stars unnumbered gild the glowing pole.

It is difficult, indeed, to understand how so thorough an astronomer as


the late Admiral Smyth could have called the passage in which these
lines occur one of the finest bursts of poetry in our language, except
on the principle cleverly cited by Waller when Charles II. upbraided
him for the warmth of his panegyric on Cromwell, that poets succeed '

better with fiction than with truth.' Macaulay, though not an astro-
nomer, speaks more justly of the passage in saying that this single
passage contains more inaccuracies than can be found in all Words-
worth's ' Excursion.'
COMETS AS PORTENTS. 217

of 1680. They cite in support of this opinion the portent


which followed the prayer of Anchises, ^neid,' Book II. '

692, etc 'Scarce had the old man ceased from praying,
:

when a peal of thunder was heard on the left, and a star,


gliding from the heavens amid the darkness, rushed through
space followed by a long train of Ught we saw the star,' ;

says .^neas, 'suspended for a moment above the roof,


brighten our home with its fires, then, tracing out a bril-

liant course, disappear in the forests of Ida ; then a long


train of flame illuminated us, and the place around reeked
with the smeU of sulphur. Overcome by these startling
portents, my father arose, invoked the gods, and worshipped
the holy star.' It is impossible to recognise here the
description of a comet. The noise, the trail of Ught, the
visible motion, the smell of sulphur, all correspond with the
fall of a meteorite close by ; and doubtless Virgil simply
introduced into the narrative the circumstances of some
such phenomenon which had been witnessed in his own
time. To base on such a point the theory that the comet
of 1680 was visible at the time of the fall of Troy, the
date of which is unknown, is venturesome in the extreme.
True, the period calculated for the comet of 1680, when
Pingr^ and Lalande agreed in this unhappy guess, was 575
years ; and if we multiply this period by five we obtain

2875 years, taking 1680 fi-om which leaves 1195 years B.C.,

near enough to the supposed date of the capture of Troy.


Unfortunately, Encke (the eminent astronomer to whom we
owe that determination of the sun's distance which for
nearly half a century held its place in our books, but has
within the last twenty years been replaced by a distance
three millions of miles less) went over afresh the calcula-

tions of the motions of that famous comet, and found that,

instead of 575 years, the most probable period is about 8814


years. The difference amounts only to 8239 years; but
218 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
even this small difference rather impairs the theory o1

Lalande and Pingrd'


Three hundred and seventy-one years before the Chris-
tian era, a comet appeared which Aristotle (who was a boy
at the time) has described. Diodorus Siculus writes thus
respecting it; 'In the first year of the io2d Olympiad,
Alcisthenes Archon of Athens, several prodigies
being
announced the approaching humiliation of the Lacedaemo-
nians; a blazing torch of extraordinary size, which was
compared to a flaming beam, was seen during several
nights.' work on Comets
Guillemin, from whose interesting
I have translated the above passage, remarks that this same

comet was regarded by the ancients as having not merely


presaged but produced the earthquakes which caused the
towns of Helice and. Bura to be submerged. This was
clearly in the thoughts of Seneca when he said of this
comet that as soon as it appeared it brought about the
submergence of Bura and HeUce.

' It may be necessary to throw in here a few words of explanation,


lest the non-astronomical reader should run away with the idea that the
so-called exact science is a very inexact science indeed, so far as comets
are concerned. The comet of 1 680 was one of those which travel on a
very eccentric oitit. Coming, indeed, from out depths many times
more remote than the path even of the remotest planet, Neptune, this
comet approached nearer to the sun than any which astronomere have
ever seen, except only the comet of 1843. When at its nearest its
nucleus was only a sixth part of the sun's diameter from his surface.
Thus the part of the comet's orbit along which astronomers traced its
motion was only a small part at one end of an enormously long ovaL
and very slight errors of observation were sufficient to produce very
large errors in the determination of the nature of the comet's orbit.
Encke admitted that the period might, so far as the comparatively im-
perfect observations made in 1680 were concerned, be any whatever,
from 805 years to many millions of years, or even to infinity that is,
the comet might have a path not re-entering into itself, but carrying
the comet for ever away from the sun after its one visit to our system.
;

COMETS AS PORTENTS, 219

In those times, however, comets were not regarded


solely as signs of disaster. As the misfortunes of one
nation were commonly held
be of advantage to other
to
nations, so the same comet might be regarded very differ-
entlyby different nations or different rulers. Thus the
comet of the year 344 b.c. was regarded by Timoleon of
Corinth as presaging the success of his expedition against
Corinth. 'The gods announced,' said Diodorus Siculus,
'
by a remarkable portent, his success and future greatness
a blazing torch appeared in the heavens at night, and went
before the fleet of Timoleon until he arrived in Sicily.'

The comets of the years 134 B.C. and 118 b.c were not
regarded as portents of death, but as signalising, the former
the birth, the latter the accession, of Mithridates. The
comet of 43 B.C was held by some to be the soul of Julius
Caesar on its way to the abode of the gods. Bodin, a
French lawyer of the sixteenth century, regarded this as

the usual significance of comets. He was, indeed, suffi-

ciently modest to attribute the opinion to Democritus, but


the whole credit of the discovery belonged to himself He
maintained that comets only indicate approaching misfor-
tunes because they are the spirits or souls of illustrious
men, who for many years have acted the part of guardian
angels, and, being at last ready to die, celebrate their last

triumph by voyaging to the firmament as flaming stars.

'
Naturally,' he says, '
the appearance of a comet is followed
by plague, pestilence, and civil war; for the nations are
deprived of the guidance of their worthy rulers, who, while
they were alive, gave all their efforts to prevent intestine

disorders.' Pingrd comments justly on this, saying that '


it

must be classed among base and shameful flatteries, not


among philosophic opinions.'

Usually, however, must be admitted that the ancients,


it

like the men of the Middle Ages, regarded comets as har-


220 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
bingers of evil. '
A fearful star is the comet,' says Pliny,

'and not easily appeased, as appeared in the late civil

troubles when Octavius was consul ; a second time by the


intestine war of Pompey and Caesar and, in our own time, ;

when, Claudius Csesar having been poisoned, the empire


was left to Domitian, in whose reign there appeared a
blazing comet.' Lucan tells us of the second event here
referred to, that during the war 'the darkest nights were
Ut up by unknown stars (a rather singular way of saying
'

that there were no dark nights) ; 'the heavens appeared on


fire, flaming torches traversed in all directions the depths
of space ; a comet, that fearful star which overthrows the
powers of the earth, showed its horrid hair.' Seneca also
expressed the opinion that some comets portend mischief:
'
Some comets,' he said, '
are wesy cruel and portend the
worst misfortunes; they bring with them and leave behind
them the seeds of blood and slaughter.'
It was held, indeed, by many in those times a subject

for reproach that some were too hard of heart to believe

when these signs were sent. It was a point of rehgious


faith that God
'
worketh and wonders in
' these '
signs
heaven.' When men, 'nation
troubles were about to befall
rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, with

great earthquakes in divers places, and famines, and pesti-


lences, and fearful sights,' then 'great signs shall there be
from heaven.' Says Josephus, commenting on the obstinacy
of the Jews in such matters, '
when they were at any time
premonished from the lips of truth itself, by prodigies and
other premonitory signs of their approaching ruin, they had
neither eyes nor ears nor understanding to make a right
use of them, but passed them over without heeding or so
much as thinking of them ; as, for example, what shall we
say of the comet in the form of a sword that hung over
Jerusalem for a whole year together?' This was probably
COMETS AS PORTENTS. 221

thecomet described by Dion Cassius (Hist. Romati. bcv. 8)


as havingbeen visible between the months of April and
December in the year 69 a.d. This or the comet of 66 a.d.
might have been Halley's comet The account of Josephus
as to the time during which was visible would not apply
it

to Halley's, or, indeed, to any known comet whatever;


doubtless he exaggerated. He says :
'
The comet was of
the kind called Xipkias, because their tail resembles the
blade of a sword,' and this would apply fairly well to
Halley's comet as seen in 1682, 1759, and 1835 though ;

it is to be remembered that comets vary very much even at

successive apparitions, and it would be quite unsafe to


judge from the appearance of a comet seen eighteen cen-
turies ago that it either was or was not the same as some

comet now known to be periodic.


The comet of 79 a.d. is interesting as having given rise

to a happy retort from Vespasian, whose death the comet


was held to portend. Seeing some of his courtiers whisper-
ing about the comet, That hairy star,' he said, does not
' '

portend evil to me. It menaces rather the king of the

Parthians. He is a hairy man, but I am bald.'


Anna Comnena goes even beyond Josephus. He only
rebuked other men for not believing so strongly as he did
himself in the significance of comets a rebuke little needed,
indeed, if we can judge from what history tells us of the
terrors excitedby comets. But the judicious daughter of
Alexius was good enough to approve of the wisdom which

provided these portents. Speaking of a remarkable comet


which appeared before the irruption of the Gauls into the
Roman empire, she says :
'
This happened by the usua5
administration of Providence in such cases ;
for it is not fit

that so great and strange an alteration of things as was


brought to pass by that irruption of theirs should be without
some previous denunciation and admonishment from heaven.'
Z22 MYTHS AND MAS VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
Socrates, the historian (b. 6, c. 6), says that when Gainas
besieged Constantinople, '
so great was the danger which
hung over the city, that it was presignified and portended
by a huge blazing comet which reached from heaven to the
earth, the like whereof no man had ever seen before.' And
Cedrenus, in his '
Compendium of History,' states that a
comet appeared before the death of Johannes Tzimicas, the
emperor of the East, which foreshadowed not alone his
death, but the great calamities which were to befall the
Roman empire by reason of their civil wars. In like manner,
the comet of 45 1 announced the death of Attila, that of 455
the death of Valentinian. The death of Merovingius was
announced by the comet of 577, of Chilperic by that of
584, of the Emperor Maurice by that of 602, of Mahomet
by that of 632, of Louis the Debonair by that of 837, and
of the Emperor Louis II. by that of 875. Nay, so confi-

dently did men believe that comets indicated the approach-


ing death of great men, that they did not believe a very
great man could die without a comet So they inferred that
the death of a very great man indicated the arrival of a
comet ; and if the comet chanced not to be visible, so much
the worse not for the theory, but for the comet 'A
comet of this kind,' says Pingrd, 'was that of the year 814,
presaging the death of Charlemagne.' So Guillemin quotes
Pingrd ; but he should rather have said, such was the comet
whose arrival was announced by Charlemagne's death and
in no other way, for it was not seen by mortal man.

The reader who chances to be strong as to his dates


may have observed that some of the dates above mentioned
for comets do not accord exactly with the dates of the
events associated with those comets. Thus Louis the De-
bonair did not die in 837, but in 840. This, however, is

a matter of very little importance. If some men, after their


comet has called for them, are ' an unconscionable time in
:

COMETS AS PORTENTS. 223

dying,' as Charles II. said of himself, it surely must not be


considered the fault of the comet. Louis himself regarded
the comet of 837 as his death-warrant; the astrologers
admitted as much : what more could be desired ? The
account of the matter given in a chronicle of the time, by
a writer who called himself '
The Astronomer,' is curious
enough :
'
During the holy season of Easter, a phenomenon,
ever fatal and of gloomy foreboding, appeared in the
heavens. As soon as the emperor, who paid attention to
such phenomena, received the first announcement of it, he
gave himself no rest until he had called a certain learned
man and myself before him. As soon as I arrived, he
anxiously asked me what I thought of such a sign. I

asked time of him, in order to consider the aspect of the


stars, and to discover the truth by their means, promising
to acquaint him on the morrow ; but the emperor, persuaded
that I wished to gain time, which was true, in order not to

be obliged to announce anything fatal to him, said to me :

"Go on the terrace of the palace, and return at once to tell

me what you have seen, for I did not see this star last
evening, and you did not point it out to me but I know ;

that it is a comet tell me what you think it announces to


;

me." Then, scarcely allowing me time to say a word, he


added :
" There is still another thing you keep back it is :

thata change of reign and the death of a prince are an-


nounced by this sign.'' And as I advanced the testimony
of the prophet, who said :
" Fear not the signs of the

heavens as the nations fear them," the prince, with his grand
nature and the wisdom which never forsook him, said
" We must only fearHim who has created both us and this
star. But, as this phenomenon may refer to us, let us

acknowledge a warning from heaven."' Accordingly,


it as
Louis himself and all his court fasted and prayed, and he
built churches and monasteries. But all was of no avail
224 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
In little more than three years he died ; showing, as the
historian Raoul Glaber remarked, that '
these phenomena
of the universe are never presented to man without surely
announcing some wonderful and terrible event' With a
range of three years in advance, and so many kings and
princes as there were about in those days, and are still, it

would be rather difificult for a comet to appear without


announcing some such wonderful and terrible event as a
royal death.
The year looo a.d. was by all but common consent
regarded as the date assigned for the end of the world.
For a thousand years Satan had been chained, and now he
was to be loosened for a while. So that when a comet
made its appearance, and, terrible to relate, continued
visible for nine days, the phenomenon was regarded as
something more than a nine days' wonder. Besides the
comet, a very wonderful meteor was seen. '
The heavens
opened, and a kind of flaming torch fell upon the earth,
leaving behind a long track of Ught like the path of a flash
of lightning. Its brightness was so great that it frightened
not only those who were in the fields, but even those who
were in their houses. As this opening in the sky slowly
closed men saw
with horror the figure of a dragon, whose
feetwere blue, and whose head' [Uke that of Dickens's
dwarf] 'seemed to grow larger and larger.' A picture of
this dreadful meteor accompanies the account given by the
old chronicler. For fear the exact likeness of the dragon
might not be recognised (and, indeed, to see it one must
' make believe a good deal '), there is placed beside it a
picture of a dragon to correspond, which picture is in turn
labelled '
Serpens cum ceruleis pedibus.' It was considered
very wicked in the year looo to doubt that the end of all

things was at hand. But somehow the world escaped that


time.
:

COMETS AS PORTENTS. 225

In the year 1066 Halley's comet appeared to announce


to the Saxons the approaching conquest of England by
WiUiam the Norman. A contemporary poet made a
singular remark, which may have some profound poetical
meaning, but certainly seems a Uttle indistinct on the surface.

He said that 'the comet had been


more favourable to
William than nature had been to Caesar the latter had no ;

hair, but William had received some from the comet.'

This is the only instance, so far as I know, in which a comet


has been regarded as a peruquier. A monk of Malmesbury
spoke more to the purpose, according to then received ideas,
in thus apostrophising the comet Here art thou again,
:
'

cause of tears to many mothers ! It is long since I saw


thee last, but I see thee now more terrible than ever ; thou
threatenest my country with complete ruin,'

Halley's comet, with its inconveniently short period of


about seventy- seven years, has repeatedly troubled the
nations and been regarded as a sign sent from Heaven
Ten million cubic miles of head.
Ten billion leagues of tail,

all provided for the sole purpose of warning one petty race
of earth-folks against the evils likely to be brought against
them by another. This comet has appeared twenty-four
times since the date of its first recorded appearance, which
some consider to have been 12 b.c., and others refer to a
few years later. It may be interesting to quote here

Babinet's description of the effects ascribed in 1455 to this


comet, often the terror of nations, but the triumph of mathe-
maticians, as the first whose motions were brought into

recognisable obedience to the laws of gravity.'

For a portion of the passages which I have quoted in this essay I


1

am indebted to Guillemin's 'Treatise on Comets,' a useful contributioD


to the literature of the subject, though somewhat inadequate so far as

exposition is concerned.
Q
226 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
'
The Mussulmans, with Mahomet II. at their head,
were besieging Belgrade, which was defended by Huniade,
surnamed the Exterminator of the Turks. Halley's comet
appeared and the two armies were seized with equal fear.
Pope Calixtus III., himself seized by the general terror,
ordered public prayers and timidly anathematised the comet
and the enemies of Christianity. He established the prayer
called the noon Angelus, the use of which is continued in
all Catholic churches. The Franciscans {Frlres Mineuri)
brought 40,000 defenders to Belgrade, besieged by the
conqueror of Constantinople, the destroyer of the Eastern
Empire. At last the battle began ; it continued two days
without ceasing. A contest of two days caused 40,000
combatants to bite the dust The Franciscans, unarmed,
crucifix in hand, were in the front rank, invoking the papal
exorcism against the comet, and turning upon the enemy
that heavenly wrath of which none in those times dared
doubt.'
The great comet of 1556 has been regarded as the
occasion of the Emperor Charles V.'s abdication of the
imperial throne ; a circumstance which seems rendered a
little doubtful by the fact that he had already abdicated
when the comet appeared a mere detail, perhaps, but
suggesting the possibihty that cause and effectmay have
been interchanged by mistake, and that it was Charles's
abdication which occasioned the appearance of the comet
According to Gemma's account the comet was conspicuous
rather from its great hght than from the length of its tail
or the strangeness of its appearance. Its head equalled
'

Jupiter in brightness, and was equal in diameter to nearly


half the apparent diameter of the moon,' It appeared about
the end of February, and in March presented a terrible
appearance, according to Ripamonte. 'Terrific indeed,'
says Sir J.
Herschel, ' it might well have been to the mind

COMETS AS PORTENTS. 227

of a prince prepared by the most abject superstition to


receive its appearance as a warning of approaching death,
and as specially sent, whether in anger or in mercy, to
detach his thoughts from earthly things, and fix them on his
eternal interests. Such was its effect on the Emperor
Charles V., whose abdication is distinctly ascribed by many

historians to this cause, and whose words on the occasion


of his first beholding it have even been recorded

" His ergo indiciis me mea fata vocant "

the language and the metrical form of which exclamation


afford no ground for disputing its authenticity, when the
habits and education of those times are fairly considered.'

It is quite likely that, having already abdicated the throne,


Charles regarded the comet as signalling his retirement
from power an event which he doubtless considered a
great deal too important to be left without some celestial
record. But the words attributed to him are in all proba-
bility apocryphal.
The comet of 1577 was remarkable for the strangeness
of its aspect, which in some respects resembled that of the
comet of 1858, called Donati's. It required only the terror
with which such portentous objects were witnessed in the
Middle Ages to transform the various streamers, curved and
straight, extending from such an object, into swords and
spears, and other signs of war and trouble. Doubtless, we
owe to the fears of the Middle Ages the strange pictures
claiming to present the actual aspect of some of the larger
comets. Halley's comet did not escape. It was compared

to a straight sword at one visit, to a curved scimitar in 1456,

and even at its last return in 1835 there were some who
recognised in the comet a resemblance to a misty head.
Other comets have been compared to sword.<! of fire, bloody
crosses, flaming daggers, spears, serpents, fiery dragons,
;

228 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.


fish, and so forth. But in this respect no comet would
seem to have been comparable with that of 1 5 2 8, of which
Andrew Pard writes as follows :
'
This comet was so
horribleand dreadful, and engendered such terror in the
minds of men, that they died, some from fear alone, others
from illness engendered by fear. It was of immense length
and blood-red colour ; at its head was seen the figure of a
curved arm, holding a large sword in the hand as if prepar-
ing to strike. At the point of this sword were three stars
and on either side a number of axes, knives, and swords
covered with blood, amongst which were many hideous
human and hair.'
faces with bristling beards
Such peculiarities of shape, and also those affecting the
position and movements of comets, were held to be fuU of
meaning. As Bayle pointed out in his Thoughts about '

the Comet of 1680,' these fancies are of great antiquity.


Pliny tells us that in his time astrologers claimed to inter-
pret themeaning of a comet's position and appearance,
and that also of the direction towards which its rays
pointed. They could, moreover, explain the effects pro-
duced by the whose rays were conjoined with
fixed stars
the comet's. If acomet resembles a flute, then musicians
are aimed at ; when comets are in the less dignified parts of
the constellations, they presage evil to immodest persons
if the head of a comet forms an equilateral triangle or a
square with fixed stars, then it is time for mathematicians
and men of science to tremble. When they are in the sign
of the Ram, they portend great wars and widespread mor-
tality, the abasement of the great and the elevation of the
small, besides fearful droughts in regions over which that
sign predominates ; in the Virgin, they imply many grievous
ills to the female portion of the population ; in the Scorpion,
they portend a plague of reptiles, especially locusts ; in the
Fishes, they indicate great troubles from religious differences.
COMETS AS PORTENTS. 229

besides war and pestilence. When, like the one described


by Milton, they 'fire the length of Ophiuchus huge,' they
show that there will be much mortality caused by poisoning.
The comet of 1680, which led Bayle to write the
treatise to which reference has just been made, was one
well calculated to inspire terror.
Indeed, if the truth were
known, that comet probably brought greater danger to the
inhabitants of the earth than any other except the comet
of 1 843 the danger not, however, being that derived from
possible collisionbetween the earth and a comet, but that
arising from the possible downfall of a large comet upon
the sun, and the consequent enormous increase of the sun's
heat That, according to Newton, is the great danger men
have to fear from comets and the comet of 1680 was one
;

which in that sense was a very dangerous one. There is


no reason why a comet from outer space should not fall
straight towards the sun, as at one time the comet of 1680
was supposed to be doing. All the comfort that science
can give the world on that point is that such a course for a
comet is only one out of many millions of possible courses,
all and that, therefore, the chance of a
fully as likely;

comet upon the sun is only as one in many millions.


falling

StiU, the comet of 1680 made a very fair shot at the sun,

and a very slight modification of its course by Jupiter or


Saturn might have brought about the catastrophe which
Newton feared. Whether, if fell upon
a comet actually
the sun, anything very dreadful would happen, is not so
clear. Newton's ideas respecting comets were formed in
ignorance of many physical facts and laws which in our
day render reasoning upon the subject comparatively easy
Yet, even in our time, it is not possible to assert confi-
dently that such fears are idle. During the solar outburst

witnessed by Carrington and Hodgson in September 1859,


it is supposed that the sun swallowed a large meteoric
230 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
mass ; and, as great comets are probably followed by many
such masses, it seems reasonable to infer that if such a
comet fell upon the sun, his surface being pelted with such
exceptionally large masses, stoned with these mighty meteoric
balls, would glow all over (or nearly so) as brightly as a
small spot of that surface glowed upon that occasioiL Now
that portion was so bright that Carrington thought '
that by
some chance a ray of light had penetrated a hole in the

screen attached to the object-glass by which the general


image is thrown in shade, for the brilliancy was fully equal

to that of direct sunlight.' Manifestly, if the whole surface


of the sun, or any large portion of the surface, were caused
to glow with that exceeding brilliancy, surpassing ordinary

sunlight in the same degree that ordinary sunlight surpassed


the shaded solar image in Carrington's observations, the
result would be disastrous in the extreme for the inhabitants

of that half of the earth which chanced to be in sunlight at


the time and if (as could scarcely fail to happen) the
;

duration of that abnormal splendour were more than half a


day, then the whole earth ycould probably be depopulated
by the intense heat. The danger, as I have said, is slight

partly because there is small chance of a collision between


the sun and a comet, partly because we have no certain
reasons for assuming that a collision would be followed by
the heating of the sun for a while to a very high tempera-
ture. Looking around at the suns which people space, and
considering their history, so far as it has been made known
to us, for the last two thousand years, we find small occasion
for fear. Those suns seem to have been for the most part
safe from any sudden or rapid accessions of heat and ii ;

they travel thus safely in their mighty journeys through


space, we may well believe that our sun also is safe.
Nevertheless, there have been catastrophes here and there.
Now one sun and now another has blazed out with a
Comets as Portents. 23*

hundred times its usual lustre, gradually losing its new


fires and returning to its customary brightness ; but after
what destruction among those peopling its system of worlds
who shall say ? Spectroscopic analysis, that powerful help
to the modern astronomical shown in one of
inquirer, has
these cases that just such changes had taken place as we
might fairly expect would follow if a mighty comet fell
into the sun. If this interpretation be correct, then we are
not wholly safe. Any day might bring us news of a comet
upon our sun from out the depths of space.
sailing full

Then astronomers would perhaps have the opportunity of


ascertaining the harmlessness of a collision between the
ruler of our system and one of the long-tailed visitors from
the celestial spaces. Or possibly, astronomers and the
earth's inhabitants generally might find out the reverse,
though the knowledge would not avail them much, seeing
that the messenger who would bring it would be the King
of Terrors himself.
It was well, perhaps, that Newton's discovery of the law
and the application of this law to the comets
of gravitation,
of 1680 and 1682 (the latter our old friend Halley's comet,
then properly so called as studied by him), came in time to
aid in removing to some slight degree the old superstitions
respecting comets. For in England many remembered the
comets of the Great Plague and of the Great Fire of
London. These comets came so closely upon the time of
the Plague and the Fire respectively, that it was not
wonderful if even the wiser sort were struck by the coinci-
dence and could scarcely regard it as accidental. It is not
easy for the student of science in our own times, when the
movements of comets are as well understood as those of the
most orderly planets, to place himself in the position of men
in the times when no one knew on what paths comets came,
or whither they retreated after they had visited our sun.
;

432 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.


Taught as men were, on the one hand, that it was wicked
to question what seemed to be the teaching of the Scriptures,
that changes or new appearances in the heavens were sent
to warn mankind of approaching troubles, and perplexed
as they were, on the other, by the absence of any real
knowledge respecting comets and meteors, it was not so
easy as we might imagine from our own way of viewing
these matters, to shake off a superstition which had ruled
over men's minds for thousands of years.
No sect had been free from this superstition. Popes and
priests had taught their followers to pray against the evil
influences of comets and other celestial portents ; Luther
and Melanchthon had condemned in no measured terms
the rashness and impiety of those who had striven to show
that the heavenly bodies and the earth move in concordance
with law those 'fools who wish to reverse the entire

science of astronomy.' A long interval had elapsed between


the time when the Copernican theory was struggling for
existence when, but that more serious heresies engaged
men's attention and kept religious folk by the ears, that

astronomical heresy would probably have been quenched


in blood and Newton of the final link of
the forging by
the chain of reasoning on which modern astronomy is based
but in those times the minds of men moved more slowly
than in ours. The masses still held to the old beliefs about
the heavenly bodies. Defoe, indeed, speaking of the terror
of men at the time of the Great Plague, says that they
'
were more addicted to prophecies and astrological conjura-
tions, dreams, and old wives' tales, than ever they were
before or since.' But in reality, it was only because of the
great misery then prevailing that men seemed more super-
stitious than usual ; for misery brings out the superstitions

the fetishisms, if we may so speak which are inherent


in many minds, but concealed from others in prosperous
;

COMETS AS PORTENTS. 233

times, out of shame, or perhaps a worthier feeling. Even


in our own times great national calamities would show that
many superstitions exist which had been thought extinct,
and we should see excited among the ill-educated that
particular form of persecution which arises, not from zeal
for religion and not from intolerance, but Vrom the belief
that the troubles have been sent because of unbelief and
the fear that unless some expiation be made the evil will
not pass away from the midst of the people. It is at such

times of general affliction that minds of the meaner sort


have proved '
zealous even to slaying.'
The influence of strange appearances in the heavens
on even thoughtful and reasoning minds, at such times of
universal calamity, is weU shown by Defoe's remarks on
the comets of the years 1664 and 1666. The old women,''

he says, '
and the phlegmatic, hypochondriacal part of the
other sex, whom I could almost call old women too,
remarked that those two comets passed directly over the
city' [though that appearance must have depended on the

position whence these old women, male and female, observed


the comet], and that so very near the houses, that it was
'

plain they imported something peculiar to the city alone

and that thecomet before the Pestilence was of a faint, dull,


languid colour, and its motion very heavy, solemn, and slow
but that the comet before the Fire was bright and sparkling,
or, as others said, flaming, and its motion swift and furious :

and that accordingly one foretold a heavy judgment, slow


but severe, terrible and frightful, as was the Plague but ;

the other foretold a stroke, sudden, swift, and fiery, as was


the Conflagration. Nay, so particular some people were,
that, as they looked upon that comet preceding the Fire,
they fancied that they not only saw it pass swiftly and
fiercely, and could perceive the motion with their eye, but
even that they heard it ; that it made a mighty rushing
234 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
noise, fierce and terrible, though at a distance and but just
perceivable. I saw both these stars, and must confess had

Ihad so much the common notion of such things in my head,


that 1 was apt to look upon them as the forerunners and
(varnings of God's judgments, and especially when, the
Plague having followed the first, I yet saw another of the
same kind, I could not but say, God had not yet sufficiently
scourged the city ' [London].
The comets of 1680 and 1682, though they did not bring
plagues or conflagrations immediately, yet were not sup-
posed to have been altogether without influence. The
convenient fiction, indeed, that some comets operate quickly
and others slowly, made it very difficult for a comet to
appear to which some evil effects could not be ascribed. If

any one can find a single date, since the records of history
have been carefully kept, which was so fortunately placed
that, during no time followingit within five years, no prince,

king, emperor, or pope died, no war was begun, or ended


disastrously for one side or the other engaged in it, no
revolution was effected, neither plague nor pestilence
occurred, neither droughts nor floods afflicted any nation,
no great hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanic outbursts, or
other trouble was recorded, he will then have shown the bare
possibility that a comet might have appeared which seemed
to presage neither abrupt nor slow-moving calamities. But
it is not possible to name such a date, nor even a date
which was not followed within two years at the utmost by
a calamity such as superstition might assign to a comet
And so closely have such calamities usually followed, that
comet could appear which might not be regarded
scarce a .

as the precursor of very quickly


approaching calamity.
Even if a comet had come which seemed to bring no
trouble, nay, if many such comets had come, men would
still have overlooked the absence of any apparent fulfilment
COMETS AS PORTENTS. 235

of the predicted troubles. Henry IV. well remarked, when


he was told that astrologers predicted his death because a
certain comet had been observed One of these days they
:
'

will predict it truly, and people will remember better the

single occasion when the prediction will be fulfilled than


the many other occasions when it has been falsified by the
event.'

The troubles connected with the comets of 1680 and


1682 were removed farther from the dates of the events
themselves than usual, at least so far as the English inter-
pretation of the comets was concerned. '
The great comet
in 1680,' says one, '
followed by a lesser comet in 1682, was
evidently the forerunner of all those remarkable and dis-

astrous events that ended in the revolution of 1688. It

also evidently presaged the revocation of the edict of Nantes,


and the cruel persecution of the Protestants, by the French
king Louis XIV., afterwards followed by those terrible wars

which, with little intermission, continued to ravage the


finest parts of Europe for nearly twenty-four years.'
If in some respects the fears inspired by comets have
been reduced by modem scientific discoveries respecting

these bodies, yet in other respects the very confidence


engendered by the exactness of modern astronomical
computations has proved a source of terror. There is

nothing more remarkable, for instance, in the whole history


of cometary superstition, than the panic which spread over
France in the year 1773, in consequence of a rumour that
the mathematician Lalande had predicted the occurrence
of a collision between a comet and the earth, and that

would inevitably follow. The foundation


disastrous effects
of the rumour was slight enough in all conscience. It had

simply been announced that Lalande would read before


the Academy of Sciences a paper entitled Reflections on '

those Comets which can approach the Earth.' That was


236 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
absolutely all ;
yet, from that one fact, not only were vague
rumours of approaching cometic troubles spread abroad,
but the statement was definitely made that on May 20 or
21, 1773, a comet would encounter the earth." So great
was the fear thus excited, that, in order to calm it, Lalande
inserted in the 'Gazette de France' of May 7, 1773, the
following advertisement :
' M. Lalande had not time to

read his memoir upon comets which may approach the


earth and cause changes in her motions ; but he would
observe that it is impossible to assign the epochs of such
events. The next comet whose return is expected is the
one which should return in eighteen years ; but it is not
one of those which can hurt the earth.'
This note had not the slightest effect in restoring peace
to minds of unscientific Frenchmen.
the M. Lalande's
study was crowded with anxious persons who came to in-
quire about his memoir. Certain devout folk, as ignorant '

as they were imbecile,' says a contemporary journal, begged


the Archbishop of Paris to appoint forty hours' prayer to

' Something very similar happened only a few years ago, so that
we cannot afford to laugh too freely at the terrors of France in 1773.
It was reported during the winter of 1871-1872, that Plantamour, the

Swiss astronomer, had predicted the earth's destruction by a comet on


August 12, 1872. Yet there was no other foundation for this rumour
than the fact that Plantamour, in a lecture upon comets and meteors,
had stated that the meteors seen on August 10, II, and 12 are bodies
following in the track of a comet whose orbit passes veiy near to the
earth's. It was very certainly known to astronomers that there could

be no present danger of a collision with this comet, for the comet has
a period of at least 1 50 years, and had last passed close to the earth's
orbit (not to the earth herself, be it understood) in 1862. But it was
useless to point this out. Many people insisted on beUeving that on
August 12, 1872, the earth would come into collision, possibly dis-
astrous, with a mighty comet, which Plantamour was said to have
detected and to have shown by a profound calculation to be rushing
directly upon our unfortunate earth.

COMETS AS PORTENTS. 237

avert the danger and prevent the terrible deluge. For this

was the particular form most men agreed that the danger
would take. That prelate was on the point, indeed, of
complying with their request, and would have done so, but
that some members of the Academy explained to him that

by so doing he would excite ridicule.

Far more effective, and, to say truth, far better judged,


was the irony of Voltaire, in his deservedly celebrated
'
Letter on the Pretended Comet.' It ran as follows :

'Grenoble, May 17, 1773.

Certain Parisians who are not philosophers, and who, if


we are to believe them, will not have time to become such,
have informed me that the end of the world approaches,
and will occur without fail on the 20th of this present

month of May. They expect, that day, a comet, which is

to take our little globe from behind and reduce it to impal-


pable powder, according to a certain prediction of the
Academy of Sciences which has not yet been made.
'
Nothing is more likely than
this event for James ;

Bernouilli, in his "Treatise upon the Comet" of 1680, pre-


dicted expressly that the famous comet of 1680 would
return with terrible uproar (^fracas) on May 19, 17 19; he
assured us that in truth its peruque would signify nothing

mischievous, but that its tail would be an infallible sign of

the wrath of heaven. If James Bernouilli mistook, it is,

after all, but a matter of fifty-four years and three days.


'
Now, so small an error as this being regarded by all

geometricians as of little moment in the immensity of ages,


it is more reasonable than to
manifest that nothing can be
hope {sic, end of the world on the 20th of
esperer) for the

this present month of May 1773, or in some other year.

If the thing should not come to pass, "omittance is no

quittance " {ce qui est differ'e, ri est fas perdu).


;

238 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.


'
There is certainly no reason for laughing at M. Trissotin,

triple idiot though he is {tout Trissotin qu'il est), when he


says to Madame Philaminte (Molifere's " Femmes Savantes,"'

acte iv. scfene 3),

'
Nous I'avons en dormant, madame, echappe belle ;

Un monde pies de nous a passe tout du long,


Est chu tout au travers de notre tourbillon
Et, s'il eflt en chemin rencontre notre terre,

Elle eflt ete brisee en morceaux comme verre.

'
A comet coursing along its parabolic orbit may come
full tilt against our earth. But then, what will happen?
Either that comet will have a force equal to that of our
earth, or greater, or less. If equal, we shall do the comet

as much harm do us, action and reaction being


as it will

equal if greater, the comet will bear us away with it if


; ;

less, we shall bear away the comet

This great event may occur in a thousand ways, and


'

no one can affirm that our earth and the other planets
have not experienced more than one revolution, through
the mischance of encountering a comet on their path.
'The Parisians will not desert their city on the 20th
inst. they will sing songs, and the play of " The Comet
;

and the World's End" will be performed at the Ope'ra


Comique.'
The last touch is as fine in its way as Sydney Smith's

remark that, if London were destroyed by an earthquake,


the surviving citizens would celebrate the event by a public
dinner among the ruins. Voltaire's prediction was not
fulfilled exactly to the letter, but what actually happened
was even funnier than what his lively imagination had
suggested. was stated by a Parisian Professor in 1832
It

(as a reason why the Academy of Sciences should refute an


assertion then rife to the effect that Biela's comet would
encounter the earth that year) that during the cometic
COMETS AS PORTENTS. 239

panic of 1773 ' there were not wanting people who knew
too well the art of turning to their advantage the alarm
inspired by the approaching comet, and places in Paradise
were sold at a very high rate.^ The announcement of the
comet of 1832 may produce similar effects,' he said, 'unless
the authority of the Academy apply a prompt remedy and ;

this salutary intervention is at this moment implored by

many benevolent persons.'


In recent years the effects produced on the minds of
men by comets have been less marked than of yore, and
appear to have depended a good deal on circumstances.
The comet of the year 1858 (called Donati's), for example,
occasioned no special fears, at least until Napoleon III.

made famous New-Year's day speech, after which many


his

began to think the comet had meant mischief. But the


comet of 1 86 1, though less conspicuous, occasioned more
serious fears. It was held by many in Italy to presage a

very great misfortune indeed, viz. the restoration of Francis


II. to the throne of the Two Sicilies. Others thought that
the downfall of the temporalpower of the Papacy and the
death of Pope Pius IX. were signified. I have not heard

that any very serious consequences were expected to follow

1 A rather amusing mistake was made by the stenographers of a


New York paper in reporting the above sentence, which I happened
to quote in a lecture upon Comets and Meteors. Instead of Paradise
they wrote Paris. Those acquainted with Pitman's system of short-
hand, the one most commonly employed by reporters, will easily
imderstand how the mistake was made, the marks made to represent
the consonants p, r, d, and s differing little from those made to repre-
sent the consonants p, r, and s (the d or t sound is represented, or
' ' '
'

may be represented, by simply shortening the length of the sign for the
preceding consonant). The mistake led naturally to my remarking in
my next lecture that Ihad not before known how thoroughly synonymous
the words are in America, though I had heard it said that Good '

Americans, when they die, go to Paris.'


240 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
the appearance of Coggia's comet in 1874. The great heat

which prevailed during parts of the summer of 1876 was held


by many to be connected in some way with a comet which
some very unskilful telescopist constructed in his imagina-
tion out of the glare of Jupiter in the object-glass of his
telescope. Another benighted person, seeing the Pleiades
low down through a fog, turned them into a comet, about

the same time. Possibly the idea was, that since comets
are supposed to cause great heats, great heats may be sup-
posed to indicate a comet somewhere; and with minds thus
prepared, it was not wonderful, perhaps, that telescopic
glare, or an imperfect view of our old friends the Pleiades,
should have been mistaken for a vision of the heat-pro-
ducing comet.
It should be a noteworthy circumstance to those who
still continue to look on comets as signs of great cata-
strophes, that a war more remarkable in many respects than
any which has ever yet been waged between two great
nations a war swift in its operations and decisive in its

effects a war in which three armies, each larger than all

the forces commanded by Napoleon I. during the campaign


of 1 8 13, were captured bodily should have been begun
and carried on to its termination without the appearance of
any great cornet. The civil war in America, a still more
terrible calamity to that great nation than the success of
Moltke's operations to the French, may be regarded by
by the great comet of 1861. But
believers as presignified
it so chances that the war between France and Germany
occurred near the middle of one of the longest intervals
recorded in astronomical annals as unmarked by a single
conspicuous comet the interval between the years 1862
and 1874.
If the progress of just ideas respecting comets has been
slow, it must nevertheless be regarded as on the whole
COMETS AS PORTENTS. 241

satisfactory. When we remember that it was not a mere


idle fancy which had to be opposed, not mere terrors which
had to be calmed, but that the idea of the significance of
changes in the heavens had come to be regarded by man-
kind as a part of their religion, it cannot but be thought
a hopeful sign that all reasoning men in our time have

abandoned the idea that comets are sent to warn the


inhabitants of this small earth. Obeying in their move-
ments the same law of gravitation which guides the planets
in their courses, the comets are tracked by the skilful

mathematician along those remote parts of their course


where even the telescope fails to keep them in view. Not
only are they no longer regarded as presaging the fortunes
of men on this earth, but men on this earth are able to
predict the fortunes of comets. Not only is it seen that
they cannot influence the fates of the earth or other planets,
but we perceive that the earth and planets by their attrac-
tive energies influence, and in no unimportant degree, the
fates of these visitants from outer space. Encouraging,
truly, is the lesson taught us by the success of earnest stud)'
and careful inquiry in determining some at least among the
laws which govern bodies once thought the wildest and
raOFt erratic creatures in the whole of God's universe.

242 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.

IX.

THE LUNAR HOAX.


Then he gave them an account of the famous moon hoax, which
came out in 1835. It was full of the most barefaced absurdities, yet
people swallowed it all ; and even Arago is said to have treated it
seriously as a thing that could not well be tnie, for Mr. Herschel wovdd
have certainly notified him of these marvellous discoveries. The writer
of it had not troubled himself to invent probabilities, but had borrowed
his scenery from the ' Arabian Nights ' and his lunar inhabitants from
'
Peter Wilkins.' Oliver Wendell Holmes (in The Poet at the

Breakfast- Table).

In one of the numbers of Macmillan's Magazine,


earliest '

the late Professor De Morgan, in an article on Scientific


Hoaxing, gave a brief account of the so-called '
lunar
hoax' an instance of scientific trickery frequently men-
tioned, though probably few are familiar with the real facts.
De Morgan himself possessed a copy of the second English
edition of the pamphlet, published in London in 1836.
But the original pamphlet edition, published in America in
September 1835, is not easily to be obtained. The proprie-
tors of the New York '
Sun,' in which the fictitious narrative

first appeared, published an edition of 60,000 copies, and


every copy was sold in less than a month. Lately a single copy
of that edition was sold for three dollars seventy-five cents.^

1 On the occasion of my first visit to America, in 1873, I for the


first time succeeded in obtaining a copy of this curious pamphlet. It
THE LUNAR HOAX. 243

'riie pamphlet is interesting in many respects, and I


propose to give here a brief account of it But first it may
be well to describe briefly the origin of the hoax.
It is said that after the French revolution of 1830
Nicollet, a French astronomer of some repute, especially
for certain lunar observations of a very delicate and diffi-

cult kind, left France in debt and also in bad odour with
the republican party. According to this story, Arago the
astronomer was especially obnoxious to Nicollet, and it was
as much with the view of revenging himself on his foe as
from a wish to raise a httle money that Nicollet wrote the
moon-fable. It is said further that Arago was entrapped,
as Nicollet desired, and circulated all over Paris the
wonders related in the pamphlet, until Nicollet wrote to
his friend Bouvard explaining the trick. So runs the story,
but the story cannot be altogether true. Nicollet may
have prepared the narrative and partly written it, but there
are passages in the pamphlet as published in America which
no astronomer could have written. Possibly there is some
truth in De Morgan's supposition that the original work
was French. This may have been Nicollet's and the :

American edition was probably enlarged by the translator,


who, according to this account, was Richard Alton Locke,'
to whom in America the whole credit, or discredit, of the
hoax is commonly There can be no doubt
attributed.
that either the French version was much more carefully

designed than the American, or there was no truth in the

had been mentioned to me (by Emerson, I think) as an amusing piece


of trickery played off by a scientific man on his brethren and Dr. ;

Wendell Holmes, who was present, remarked that he had a copy in


his possession. This he was good enough to lend me. Soon after, a
valued friend in New York presented me with a copy.
^ This Locke must not be confounded with Richard Lock, the circle-

squarer and general paradoxist, who flourished a century earlier.


244 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
Story that Arago was deceived by the narrative ; for in its

present form the story, though clever, could not for an in-
stant have deceived any one acquainted with the most
elementary laws of optics. The whole story turns on opti-
cal rather than on astronomical considerations ; but every
astronomer of the least skill is acquainted with the principles
on which the construction of optical instruments depends.
Though the success of the deception recently practised on
M. Chasles by the forger of the Pascal papers has been
regarded as showing how easily mathematicians may be
entrapped, yet even M. Chasles would not have been
deceived by bad mathematics ; and Arago, a master of the
science of optics, could not but have detected optical
blunders which would be glaring to the average Cambridge
undergraduate.
But let us turn to the story itself.

The account opens with a passage unmistakably from


an American hand, though purporting, be it remembered,

to be quoted from the '


Supplement to the Edinburgh
Journal of Science.' '
In this unusual addition to our
journal, we have the happiness of making known to the
British public, and thence to the whole civilised world,
recent discoveries in astronomy which will build an imperish-
able monument to the age in which we live, and confer
upon the present generation of the human race a proud
distinction through all future time. It has been poetically

said [where and by whom ?] that the stars of heaven are


'
'

the hereditary regalia of man, as the intellectual sovereign


of the animal creation. He may now fold the zodiac
around him with a loftier consciousness of his mental
supremacy.' To the American mind enwrapment in the
star-jewelled zodiac may appear as natural as their ordinary
oratorical references to the star-spangled banner ; but the
idea is essentially transatlantic, and not even the most
THE LUNAR HOAX, 245

poetical European astronomer could have risen td Such a


height of imagery.
Passing over several pages of introductory matter, we
come method by which a telescope
to the description of the
of sufficient magnifying power to show living creatures in
the moon was constructed by Sir John Herschel. It had
occurred, it would seem, to the elder Herschel to construct
an improved series of parabolic and spherical reflectors
'uniting all the meritorious points in the Gregorian and
Newtonian instruments, with the highly interesting achro-
matic discovery of Dolland '(<:). [This is much as though
one should say that a clever engineer had conceived the
idea of constructing an improved series of railway engines,
combining all the meritorious points in stationary and loco-
motive engines, with Isaac Watts' highly ingenious discovery
of screw propulsion. For the Gregorian and Newtonian
instruments simply differ in sending the rays received from
the great mirror in different directions, and DoUand's dis-

covery relates to the ordinary forms of telescopes with large


lens, not with large mirror.] However, accumulating in-

firmities and eventually death prevented Sir William


Herschel from applying his plan, which '
evinced the most
profound research in optical science, and the most dexterous
ingenuity in mechanical contrivance. But his son. Sir John
Herschel, nursed and cradled in the observatorj', and a
practical astronomer from his boyhood, determined upon
testing it at whatever cost. Within two years of his father's

death he completed his new apparatus, and adapted it to

the old telescope with nearly perfect success.' A short

account of the observations made with this instrument, now


magnifying six thousand times, follows, in which most of the
astronomical statements are very correctly and justly worded,
being, in fact, boiTOwed from a paper by Sir W. Herschel
on observation of the moon with precisely that power.
246 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
But this great improvement upon all former telescopes
still left the observer at a distance of forty miles from the

moon ; and at that distance no object less than about twenty


yards in diameter could be distinguished, and even objects
of that size would appear only as feeble, shapeless points.'
'

Sir John had the satisfaction to know that if he could leap


'

astride a cannon-ball, and travel upon its wings of fury for


the respectable period of several millions of years, he would
not obtain a more enlarged view of the more distant stars

than he could now possess in a few minutes of time ; and


that it would require an ultra-raihoad speed of fifty miles an
hour for nearly the Uvelong year, to secure him a more
favourable inspection of the gentle luminary of the night;'
but ' the exciting question whether this " observed " of all
the sons of men, from the days of Eden to those of Edin-

burgh, be inhabited by beings, like ourselves, of conscious-


ness and curiosity, was left to the benevolent index of natural
analogy, or to the severe tradition that the moon is tenanted
only by the hoary solitaire, whom the criminal code of the
nursery had banished thither for collecting fuel on the Sab-
bath-day." But the time had arrived when the great dis-

covery was to be made, by which at length the moon could


be brought near enough, by telescopic power, for living
creatures on her surface to be seen if any exist.

The account of the sudden discovery of the new method,


1 The nurses' tale is, that the man was sent to the moon by Moses

for gathering sticks on the Sabbath, and they refer to the cheerful story
in Numbers xv. 32-36. According to German nurses the day was not
the Sabbath, but Sunday. Their tale runs as follows :
'
Ages ago
there went one Sunday an old man into the woods to hew sticks. He
cut a faggot and slung it on a stout staff, cast it over his shoulder, and
began to trudge home with his burthen. On his way he met a hand-
some man in Sunday suit, walking towards the church. The man
stopped, and asked the faggot-bearer; "Do you know that this is
Sunday on earth, when all must rest from their labours?" " Sunday
THE LUNAR HOAX. 24?

during a conversation between Sir John Herschel and Sir


David Brewster, is one of the most cleverly conceived
(though also one of the absurdest) passages in the pamphlet
'
About three years ago, in the course of a conversational
discussion with Sir David Brewster upon the merits of some
ingenious suggestions by the latter, in his article on Optics
in the " Edinburgh Encyclopaedia," p. 644, for improvements
in Newtonian reflectors, Sir John Herschel adverted to the
convenient simpUcity of the old astronomical telescopes
that were without tubes, and the object-glass of which,
placed upon a high pole, threw the focal image to a distance
of 150 and even 200 feet. Dr. Brewster readily admitted
that a tube was not necessary, provided the focal image
were conveyed into a dark apartment and there properly
received by reflectors. . . . The conversation then Jjecame
directed to that all-invincible enemy, the paucity of light in
powerful magnifiers. After a few moments' silent thought.
Sir John diffidently enquired whether it would not be pos-
sible to effect a transfusion of artificial light through the
focal object of vision t Sir David, somewhat startled at the
originality of the idea, paused awhile, and then hesitatingly
referred to the refrangibility of rays, and the angle of inci-

dence. Sir John, grown more confident, adduced the ex-


ample of the Newtonian reflector, in which the refrangibility
was corrected by the second speculum, and the angle of
incidence restored by the third.'
on earth or Monday in heaven, it's all one to me ?" laughed the wood-
cutter. "Then bear your bundle for ever!" answered the stranger.
" And as you value not Sunday on earth, yours shall be a perpetual
Moon-day in heaven ;
you shall stand for eternity in the moon, a
warning to all Thereupon the stranger vanished ;
Sabbath-breakers."
and the man was staff and faggot into the moon,
caught up with his
where he stands yet.' According to some narrators the stranger was
Christ ; but whether from German laxity in such matters or for some
other reason, no text is quoted in evidence, as by the more orthodox
British nurses. Luke vi. 1-5 might serve.
248 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
All this part of the narrative is simply splendid in
absurdity. Hesitating references to refrangibility and the
angle of incidence would have been sheerly idiotic under
the supposed circumstances ; and in the Newtonian reflector

(which has only two specula or mirrors) there is no refrangi-

bility to be corrected ; apart from which, '


correcting re-
frangibility '
has no more meaning than '
restoring the angle
of incidence.'
' " And," continued Sir John, " why cannot the illumi-
nating microscope, say the hydro-oxygen, be applied to
render distinct, and, if necessary, even to magnify, the
focal object ?" Sir David sprung from his chair' [and well
he might, though not] 'in an ecstasy of conviction, and,
leaping half-way to the ceiling, exclaimed, " Thou art the

man Each philosopher anticipated the other in present-


!"

ing the prompt illustration that if the rays of the hydro-


oxygen microscope, passed through a drop of water con-
taining the larvae of a gnat and other objects invisible to
the naked eye, rendered them not only keenly but firmly
magnified to dimensions of many feet ; so could the same
artificial light, passed through the faintest focal object of a
telescope, both distinctify (to coin a new word for an
extraordinary occasion) and magnify its feeblest component
members. The only apparent desideratum was a recipient
for the focal image which should transfer it, without re-
franging it, to the surface on which it was to be viewed
under the revivifying light of the microscopic reflectors.'
Singularly enough, the idea here mentioned does not
appear to many so absurd as it is in reality. It is known
that the image formed by the large lens of an ordinary
telescope or the large mirror of a reflecting telescope is a
real image ; not a merely virtual image like that which is

seen in a looking-glass. It can be received on a sheet of

paper or other white surface just as the image of surround-


THE LUNAR HOAX. 249

ing objects can be thrown upon the white table of the


camera obscura. It is this real image, in fact, which we
look at in using a telescope of any sort, the portion of such
a telescope nearest to the eye being in reality a microscope
for viewing the image formed by the great lens or mirror,
as the case may be. And it does not seem to some
altogether absurd to speak of illuminating this image by
transfused light, or of casting by means of an illuminating
microscope a vastly enlarged picture of this image upon a
screen. But of course the image being simply formed by
the passage of rays (which originally came from the object
whose image they form) through a certain small space, to
send other rays (coming from some other luminous object)
through the same small space, is not to improve, but, so
far as any effect is produced at all, to impair, the distinct-
ness of the image. In fact, if these illuminating rays
reached the eye, they would seriously impair the distinctness
of the image. Their effect may be compared exactly with
the eflTect of rays of light cast upon the image in a camera
obscura and, to see what the
; effect of such rays would be,
we need only consider why it is that the camera is made
'
obscura,' or dark. The effect of the transfusion of light
through a telescopic image may be easily tried by any one
who cares to make the experiment. He has only to do
away with the tube of his telescope (substituting two or three
straight rods to hold the glass in its place), and then in the

blaze of a strong sun to direct the telescope on some object


lying nearly towards the sun. Or if he prefer artificial light

for the experiment, then at night let him direct the telescope

so prepared upon the moon, while a strong electric light is


directed upon the place where the focal image is formed
(close in front of the eye). The experiment will not suggest
very sanguine hopes of good result from the transfusion of
artificial light Yet, to my own knowledge, not a few who
250 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
were perfectly well aware that the lunar hoax was not based
on facts, have gravely reasoned that the principle suggested
might be sound, and, in fact, that they could see no reason
why astronomers should not try it, even though it had been
first suggested as a joke.
To return, however, to the narrative. '
The co-opera-
tive philosophers, having hit upon their method, determined
to test it practically. They decided that a medium of the
purest plate-glass (which it is said they obtained, by consent,
be it observed, from the shop-window of M. Desanges, the
jeweller to his ex-majesty Charles X., in High Street) was
the most eligible they could discover. It answered perfectly
with a telescope which magnified a hundred times, and a
microscope of about thrice that power.' Thus fortified by
experiment, and 'fully sanctioned by the high optical

authority of Sir David Brewster, Sir John laid his plan

before the Royal Society, and particularly directed to it the


attention of his Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, the
ever munificent patron of science and the arts. It was

immediately and enthusiastically approved by the committee


chosen to investigate it, and the chairman, who was the
Royal President' (this continual 'reference to royalty is

manifestly intended to give a British tone to the narrative),


'
subscribed his name for a contribution of ^10,000, with a
promise that he would zealously submit the proposed instru
ment as a fit object for the patronage of the privy purse.
He did so without delay ; and his Majesty, on being in-

formed that the estimated expense was ;^7 0,000, naively


enquired if the costly instrument would conduce to any
improvement in navigation. On being informed that it un-
doubtly would, the sailor king promised a carte blanche for
any amount which might be required.'
All this is very clever. The '
sailor king' comes in as
effectively to give vraisemblance to the narrative as '
Crab-
THE LUNAR HOAX. 251

tree's little bronze Shakspeare that stood over the fireplace,'


and the '
postman just come to the door with a double
letter from Northamptonshire.'
Then comes a description of the construction of the
object-glass, twenty-four feet in diameter, 'just six times
the size of the elder Herschel's ;'
who, by the way, never
made a telescope with an object-glass. The account of
Sir John Herschel's journey from England, and even some
details of the construction of the observatory, were based
on facts, indeed, so many persons in America as well as in
England were acquainted with some of these circumstances,
that it was essential to follow the facts as closely as possible.
Of some explanation had to be given of the
course, also,
circumstance that nothing had before been heard respecting
the gigantic instrument taken out by Sir John Herschel.
'
Whether,' says the story, the British Government were
'

sceptical concerning the promised splendour of the dis-

coveries, or wished them to be scrupulously veiled until


they had accumulated a full-orbed glory for the nation and
reign in which they originated, is a question which we can
only conjecturally solve. But certain it is that the astro-
nomer's royal patrons enjoined a masonic taciturnity upon
him and his firiends until he should have officially communi-
cated the results of his great experiment.'
It was not till the night of January 10, 1835, that the
mighty telescope was at length directed towards our satellite.

The part of the moon on the eastern part of


selected was
her disc. The whole immense power of the telescope was
'

applied, and to its focal image about one half of the power
of the microscope. On removing the screen of the latter,

the field of view was covered throughout its entire area

and even vivid representation of


with a beautifully distinct
basaltic rock. was a greenish brown ; and the
Its colour

width of the columns, as defined by their interstices on the


252 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
canvas, was invariably twenty-eight inches. No fracture
whatever appeared in the mass first presented ; but in a
few seconds a shelving pile appeared, of five or six columns'
width, which showed their figure to be hexagonal, and their
articulations similar to those of the basaltic formation at
Staffa. This precipitous cliff was profusely covered with
a dark red flower, precisely similar, says Dr. Grant, to the
Papaver Rhoeus, or Rose Poppy, of our sublunary corn-
fields ; and this was the first organic production of nature
in a foreign world ever revealed to the eyes of men.'
It would be wearisome to go through the whole series
of observations thus fabled, and only a few of the more
striking features need be indicated. The discoveries are
zarefuUy graduated in interest Thus we have seen how,
after recognising basaltic formations, the observers dis-

covered flowers : they next see a lunar forest, whose '


trees
were of one unvaried kind, and unlike any on earth except
the largest kind of yews in the English churchyards.'
(There is an American ring in this sentence, by the way, as
there is in one, a few lines farther on, where the narrator
having stated that by mistake the observers had the Sea
ot Clouds instead of a more easterly spot in the field of

view, proceeds to say However, the moon was a free


:
'

country, and we not any particular pro-


as yet attached to

vince.') Next a lunar ocean is described, the water nearly '

as blue as that of the deep sea, and breaking in large white


billows upon the strand, while the action of very high tides
was quite manifest upon the face of the cliffs for more than
a hundred miles.' After a description of several valleys,
hills, mountains and forests, we come to the discovery of
animal life. An oval valley surrounded by hills, red as the
purest vermilion, is selected as the scene. 'Small collec-
tions of trees, of every imaginable kind, were scattered
about the whole of this luxuriant area ; and here oui
THE LUNAR HOAX 253

magnifiers blessed our panting hopes with specimens of


conscious existence. In the shade of the woods we beheld
brown quadrupeds having all the external characteristics of
the bison, but more diminutive than any species of the bos
genus in our natural history.' Then herds of agile creatures
like antelopes are described, '
abounding on the acclivitous
glades of the woods.' In the contemplation of these
sprightly animals the narrator becomes quite lively. '
This
beautiful creature,' says he, '
afforded us the most exquisite
amusement. The mimicry movements upon our
of its

white painted canvas was as faithful and luminous as that


of animals within a few yards of the camera obscura. Fre-
quently, when attempting to put our fingers upon its beard,
it would suddenly bound away as if conscious of our earthly

impertinence but then others would appear, whom we


;

could not prevent nibbling the herbage, say or do to them


what we would'
A strange amphibious creature, of a spherical form,
rolling with great velocity along a pebbly beach, is the next
object of interest, but is presently lost sight of in a strong
current setting off from the angle of an island. After this
there are three or four pages descriptive of various lunar
scenes and animals, the latter showing a tendency, singular
considering the circumstances, though very convenient for
the narrator, to become higher and higher in type as the
discoveries proceed, until an animal somewhat of the nature
of the missing link is discovered. It is found in the Endy-
raion (a circular walled plain) in company with a small kind
of reindeer, the elk, the moose, and the horned bear, and
is described as the biped beaver. It '
resembles the beaver
of the earth in every other respect than in its destitution of
a tail, and its invariable habit of walking upon only two
feet It carries its young in its arms like a human being,
and moves with an easy gliding motion. Its huts are con-
2S4 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
structed better and higher than those of many tribes of
human savages, and, from the appearance of smoke in
nearly all of them, there is no doubt of its being acquainted
with the use of fire. Still, its head and body differ only in

the points stated from that of the beaver ; and it was never
seen except on the borders of lakes and rivers, in which
it has been observed to immerse for a period of several
seconds.'
The next step towards the climax brings us to domestic
animals, '
good large sheep, which would not have disgraced
the farms of Leicestershire or the shambles of Leadenhall
Market ; we fairly laughed at the recognition of so familiar

an acquaintance in so distant a land. Presently they ap-


peared in great numbers, and, on reducing the lenses, we
found them in flocks over a great part of the valley. I

need not say how desirous we were of finding shepherds to


these flocks, and even a man with blue apron and roUed-up
sleeves would have beeri a welcome sight to us, it not to
the sheep ; but they fed in peace, lords of their own pastures,
without either protector or destroyer in human shape.'
In the meantime, discussion had arisen as to the lunar
locality where men, or creatures resembling them, would
most likely be found. Herschel had a theory on the subject
viz., that just where the balancing or libratory swing of
the moon brings into view the greatest extent beyond the
eastern or western parts of that hemisphere which is turned
earthwards in the moon's mean or average position, lunar
inhabitants would probably be found, and nowhere else.
This, by the way (speaking seriously), is a rather curious
anticipation of a view long subsequently advanced by
Hansen, and for a time adopted by Sir J. Herschel, that
possibly the remote hemisphere of the moon may be a fit

abode and atmosphere which


for living creatures, the oceans
are wanting on the nearer hemisphere having been (on this
THE LUNAR HOAX. 255

hypothesis) drawn over to the remoter because of a dis-


placement of the moon's centre of gravity. I ventured in
one of my first books on astronomy to indicate objections
to this theory, the force of which Sir J, Herschel admitted
in a letter addressed to me on the subject
Taking, then, an opportunity when the moon had just
swung to the extreme limit of her balancing, or, to use
technical terms, when she had attained her maximum
libration in longitude, the observers approached the level

opening to Lake Langrenus, as the narrator calls this fine

walled plain, which, by the way, is fully thirty degrees of


lunar longitude within the average western limit of the
moon's visible hemisphere. ' Here the valley narrows to a
mile in width, and displays scenery on both sides pictur-
esque and romantic beyond the powers of a prose descrip
tion. Imagination, borne on the wings of poetry, could
alone gather similes to portray the wild sublimity of this
landscape, where dark behemoth crags stood over the
if a rampart in the sky
brows of lofty precipices, as and ;

forestsseemed suspended in mid-air. On the eastern side


there was one soaring crag, crested with trees, which hung
over in a curve like three-fourths of a Gothic arch, and
being of a rich crimson colour, its effect was most strange
upon minds unaccustomed to the association of such gran-
deur with such beauty. But, whilst gazing upon them in
a perspective of about half a mile, we were thrilled with

astonishment to perceive four successive flocks of large


winged creatures, wholly unlike any kind ot birds, descend
with a slow even motion from the cliffs on the western side
and alight upon the plain. They were first noticed by Dr.
Herschel, who exclaimed :
"Now, gentlemen, my theories
against your proofs, which you have often found a pretty
even bet, we have here something worth looking at. I

was confident that if ever we found beings in human shape


2S6 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
it would be in this longitude, and that they would be pro-
vided by their Creator with some extraordinary powers of
locomotion.'' . . . We counted three parties of these crea-
tures, of twelve, nine, and fifteen in each, walking erect
towards a small wood near the base of the eastern preci-
pices. Certainly they were like human beings, for their
wings had now disappeared, and their attitude in walking
was both erect and dignified. . . They averaged four feet
in height, were covered, except on the face, with short and
glossy copper-coloured hair, lying snugly upon their backs,
from the top of the shoulders to the calves of the legs.

The face, which was of a yellowish flesh colour, was a


slight improvement upon that of the large orang outang,
being more open and intelligent in its expression, and
having a much greater expansion of forehead. The mouth,
however, was very prominent, though somewhat relieved
by a thick beard upon the lower jaw, and by lips far more
human than those of any species of the simia genus. In
general symmetry of body and limbs they were infinitely

superior to the orang outang; so much so, that, but for


their long wings, Lieutenant Drummond said they would
look as well on a parade ground as some of the old
Cockney militia. . These creatures were evidently
. .

engaged in conversation ; their gesticulation, more par-


ticularly the varied action of their hands and arms, ap-
peared impassioned and emphatic We hence inferred
that they were rational beings, and, although not perhaps
of so high an order as others which we discovered the next
month on the shores of the Bay of Rainbows, that they
were capable of producing works of art and contrivance.
. . . They possessed wings of great expansion, similar in
construction to those of the bat, being a semi-transparent
membrane united in curvilinear divisionsby means of
straight radii, united at the back by the dorsal integu-
THE LUNAR HOAX. i.e<j

meiits. But what astonished us very much was the cir-

cumstance of membrane being continued from the


this
shoulders to the legs, united all the way down, though
gradually decreasing in width' (very much as Fuseli de-
picted the wings of hisSatanic Majesty, though H.S.M.
would seem to have the advantage of the lunar Bat-men
in not being influenced by gravity'). '
The wings seemed
completely under the command of vohtion, for those of the

' Milton's opinion may be quoted against me here ; and as received


ideas respecting angels, good and bad, the fall of man, and many other
such matters, are due quite as much to Milton as to any other authority,
his opinion must not be lightly disregarded. But though, when Mil-
ton's Satan ' meets a vast vacuity '
where his wings are of no further
service to him,
All unawares '

pennons vain, plumb down he drops


Flutt'ring his
Ten thousand fathoms deep, and to this hour
Dovm had been falling, had not by ill chance
The strong rebuff of some tumultuous cloud.
Instinct with fire and nitre, hurried him

As many miles aloft,'

Newton had
yet this vpas written nearly a quarter of a century before
established the law of gravity. no evidence to show
Moreover, there is

in what direction Satan fell above is below and below above,' says
;
'

Richter, 'to one stripped of gravitating body;' and whether Satan


was under the influence of gravity or not, he would be practically
exempt from its action when in the midst of that '
dark, illimitable
ocean' of space,
Without bound, '

Without dimensions, where length, breadth, and height,


And time and place are lost.'
His lighting 'on Niphates' top,' and overleaping the gate of Paradise,
may be used as arguments either way. On the whole, I must (accord-
ing to my present lights) claim for Satan a freedom from all scientific

restraints. This freedom is exemplified by his showing all the kingdoms


of the world from an exceeding high mountain, thus afifbrding the first

practical demonstration of the flat-earth theory, the maintenance of

which led to poor Mr. Hampden's incarceration.


S
2S8 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
creatures whom we saw bathing in the water spread them
instantly to their full width, waved them as ducks do theirs

to shake off the water, and then as instantly closed them


again in a compact form. Our further observation of the
habits of these creatures, who were of both sexes, led to
results so very remarkable, that I prefer they should be

first laid before the pubUc in Dr. Herschel's own work,


where I have reason to know they are fully and faithfully

stated, however incredulously they may be received. . . .

We scientifically denominated them the Vespertilio-homo


or Bat-man ; and they are doubtless innocent and happy
creatures, notwithstanding that some of their amusements
would but ill comport with our terrestrial notions of de-
corum.' The omitted passages were suppressed in obedi-

ence to Dr. Grant's private injunction. 'These, however,


and other prohibited passages,' were to be presently pub- '

lished by Dr. Herschel, with the certificates of the civil


and military authorities of the colony, and of several Epis-
copal, Wesleyan, and other ministers, who in the month of
March last were permitted, under stipulation of temporary
secrecy, to visit the observatory, and become eye-witnesses
of the wonders which they were requested to attest. We
are confident that his forthcoming volumes will be at once
the most subhme in science, and the most intense in general
interest, that ever issued from the press.'

The actual climax of the narrative, however, is not yet


reached. The inhabitants of Langrenus, though rational,
do not belong to the highest orders of intelligent Luna-
rians. Herschel, ever ready with theories, had pointed out
that probably the most cultivated races would be found
residing on the slopes of some active volcano, and, in par-
ticular, that the proximity of the flaming mountain Bullialdus
(about twenty degrees south and ten east of the vast crater
Tycho, the centre whence extend those great radiations
THE LUNAR HOAX. 259

which give to the moon something of the appearance of a


peeled orange) 'must be so great a local convenience to
dwellers in this valley during the long periodical absence of
solar light, as to render it a place of popular resort for the
inhabitants of all the adjacent regions, more especially as its

bulwark of hills afforded an infallible security against any


volcanic eruption that could occur.' Our observers there-
fore applied their full power to explore it '
Rich, indeed,
was our reward. The very first object in this valley that
appeared upon our canvas was a magnificent work of art.
It was a temple
a fane of devotion or of science, which,
when consecrated to the Creator, is devotion of the loftiest
order, for it His attributes purely, free from the
exhibits
masquerade and blasphemous caricature of contro-
attire

versial creeds, and has the seal and signature of His own

hand to sanction its aspirations. It was an equi-angular


temple, built of polished sapphire, or of some resplendent
blue stone, which, hke it, displayed a myriad point of golden
lighttwinkling and scintillating in the sunbeams. . .

The roof was composed of yellow metal, and divided into


three compartments, which were not triangular planes in-

clining to the centre, but subdivided, curved, and separated


so as t(^ present a mass of violently agitated flames rising
firom a common source of conflagration, and terminating in
wildly waving points. This design was too manifest and
too skilfully executed to be mistaken for a single moment.
Through a few openings in these metallic flames we perceived
a large sphere of a darker kind of metal nearly of a clouded
copper colour, which they enclosed and seemingly raged
around, as if hieroglyphically consuming it . . . What
did the ingenious builders mean by the globe surrounded
by flames ? Did they, by this, record any past calamity of
their world, or predict any future one of oursV (Why, by
the way, should the past theory be assigned to the moon

26o MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
and the future one to our earth ?) ' I by no means despair
of ultimately solving not only these but a thousand other
questions which present themselves respecting the objects
in this planet ; for not the millionth part of her surface
has yet been explored, and we have been more desirous of
collecting the greatest possible number of new facts than of
indulging in speculative theories, however seductive to the
imagination.'
After this we have an account of the behaviour of the
Vespertilio-homo at meals. 'They seemed eminently
happy, and even polite ; would select large
for individuals

and bright specimens of and throw them archwise


fruit,

across to some friend who had extracted the nutriment


from those scattered around him.' However, the lunar
men are not on the whole particularly interesting beings
according to this account. So far as we could judge, they
'

spent their happy hours in collecting various fruits in the


woods, in eating, flying, bathing, and loitering about the
summits of precipices.' One may say of them what Huxley
is reported to have said of the spirits as described by
spiritualists, that no student of science would care to waste
his time inquiring about such a stupid set of people.
Such are the more interesting and characteri^ic por-
'

tions of a narrative, running in the original to forty of fifty


large octavo pages. day the story attracted a good
In its

deal of notice, and, even when every one had learned the
trick, many were still interested in a brochure which was so
cleverly conceived and had deceived so many. To this
day the lunar hoax is talked of in America, where originally
it had its chief or, one may rather say, its only real
success as a hoax. Itreached England too late to deceive
any but those who were unacquainted with Herschel's real
doings, and no editors of public journals, I believe, gave
countenance to it at all. In America, on the contrary,
THE LVKTAR HOAX. 261

many editors gave the narrative a distinguished place in


their columns. Some indeed expressed doubts, and others
followed the safe course of the 'Philadelphia Inquirer,'
which informed its readers that '
after an attentive perusal
of the whole story they could decide for themselves ;'
adding
that, 'whether true or false, the narrative is written with
consummate ability and possesses intense interest' But
others were more credulous. According to the Mercantile '

Advertiser ' the story carried '


intrinsic evidence of being an
authentic document' The 'Albany Daily Advertiser' had
read the article '
with unspeakable emotions of pleasure
and astonishment' The 'New York Times' announced
that 'the writerjVndrew Grant) displays the most
(Dr.
extensive and accurate knowledge of astronomy; and the
description of Sir John's recently improved instruments, the
principle on which the inestimable improvements were
founded, the account of the wonderful discoveries in the
moon, etc., all are probable and plausible, and have an air

of intense verisimilitude.' The New Yorker'


' considered
the discoveries 'of astounding interest, creating a new era in
astronomy and science generally."

1 The Sun itself claimed to have established the veracity of the


account in a manner strongly recalling a well-known argument used by
orthodox believers in the Bible account of the cosmogony. Either,
say these, Moses discovered how the world was made, or the facts were
revealed to him by some one who had made the discovery but Moses :

could not have made the discovery, knowing nothing of the higher
departments of science ; therefore, the account came from the only
Being who could rationally be supposed to know anything about the
beginning of the world. '
Either,' said the New York Sun, speaking
of a mathematical problem discussed in the article, that problem was '

predicated by us or some other person, who has thereby made the


greatest of all modern discoveries in mathematical astronomy. We did
not make it, for we know nothing of mathematics whatever ; therefore,
it was made by the only person to whom it can rationally be ascribed,
namely Herschel the astronomer, its only avowed and undeniable
262 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMV.
In our time a trick of the kind could hardly be expected
to succeed so well, even if as cleverly devised and as well
executed. The facts of popular astronomy and of general
popular science have been more widely disseminated.
America, too, more than any other great nation, has advanced
in the interval. It was about two years after this pamphlet
had appeared, that J. Quincy Adams used the following
significant language in advocating the erection of an astro-
nomical observatory at Washington :
'
It is with no feeling
of pride as an American that the remark may be made,
that on the comparatively small territorial surface of Europe
there are existing more than 130 of these lighthouses of
the skies; while throughout the whole American hemisphere
there is but one.' At present, some of the finest observa-
tories in the world belong to American cities, or are attached
to American colleges ; and much of the most interesting
astronomical work of thiscountry has been achieved by
American observers.
Yet we still hear from time to time of the attempted
publication of hoaxes of greater or less ingenuity. It is
singular (and I think significant) how often these relate to
the moon. There would seem to be some charm about
our satelhte for the minds of paradoxists and hoaxers

generally. Nor are these tricks invariably detected at


once by the general public, or even by persons of some
culture. I remember being gravely asked (in January 1874)

whether an account given in the New York World,' pur-'

porting to describe how the moon's frame was gradually


cracking, threatening eventually to fall into several separate
fragments, was in reality based on fact. In the far West

author.' In reality, notwithstanding this convincing argument, the


problem was stolen by Locke from a paper by Olbers, .shortly before
published, and gave the method followed by Beer and Madler through-
out their selenographical researches in 1833-37.
THE LUNAR HOAX. 263

at Lincoln, Nebraska, a lawyer asked me, not long since,


why I had not described the great discoveries recently
made by means of a powerful reflector erected near Paris.
According to the 'Chicago Times,' this powerful instru-
ment had shown buildings in the moon, and bands of
workers could be seen with it who manifestly were under-
going some kind of penal servitude, for they were chained
together. It was clear, from the presence of these and the
absence of other inhabitants, that the side of the moon
turned earthwards is a dreary and unpleasant place of
abode, the real '
happy hunting grounds of the moon lying
'

on her remote and unseen hemisphere.


As gauges of general knowledge, scientific hoaxes have
their uses, just as paradoxical works have. No one, cer-
tainly no student of science, can thoroughly understand
how little some persons know about science, until he has ob-
served how much will be believed, if only published with the
apparent authority of a few known names, and announced
with a sufficient parade of technical verbiage ; nor is it so
easy as might be thought, even for those who are acquainted
with the facts, to disprove either a hoax or a paradox.
Nothing, indeed, can much more thoroughly perplex and
confound a student of science than to be asked to prove, for

example, that the earth is not flat, or the moon not inhabited
by creatures like ourselves ; for the circumstance that such a

question asked implies ignorance so thorough of the very


is

facts on which the proof must be based, as to render argu-

ment all but hopeless from the outset. I have had a some-
what wide experience of paradoxists, and have noted the
experience of De Morgan and others who, like him, have
tried to convince them of their folly. The conclusion at
which I have arrived is, that to make a rope of sand were
an easy task compared with the attempt to instil the
simpler facts of science into paradoxical heads.
;;

264 MYTHS AND MARVELS OP ASTRONOMY.


I would make some remarks, in conclusion, upon scien-

tific or quasi-scientific papers not intended to deceive, but


yet presenting imaginary scenSs, events, and so forth,

described more or less in accordance with scientific facts.

Imaginary journeys to the sun, moon, planets, and stars

travels over regions on the earth as


, yet unexplored
voyages under the sea, through the bowels of the earth,
and other such narratives, may, perhaps, be sometimes use-
fully written and read, so long as certain conditions are ful-

filled by the narrator. In the first place, whUe adopting, to


preserve the unities, the tone of one relating facts which
actually occurred, he should not suffer even the simplest
among his readers to lie under the least misapprehension as
to the true nature of the narrative. Again, since of necessity
established facts must in such a narrative appear in com-
pany with the results of more or less probable surmise, the
reader should have some means of distinguishing where
fact ends and surmise begins. For example, in a paper I once
wrote, entitled '
A Journey to Saturn,' I was not sufficiently
careful to note that while the appearances described in the
approach towards the planet were in reality based on the
observed appearances as higher and higher telescopic powers
are applied to the planet, others supposed to have been seen
by the visitors to Saturn when actually within his system,
were only such as might possibly or probably be seen, but
for which we have no real evidence. In consequence of this
omission, I received several inquiries about these matters.
'Is it true,' some wrote, 'that the small satellite Hyperion'
(scarce discernible in powerful telescopes, while Titan
and Japetus on either side are large) '
is only one of a
ring of small satellites travelling
between the orbits of the
larger
moons?' as the same planets travel between the
paths of Mars and Jupiter. Others asked on what grounds
it was said that the voyagers found small moons circling
THE LUNAR HOAX. 265

about Titan, the giant moon of the Satumian system, as the


moons of Jupiter and Saturn circle around those giant
members of the solar system. In each case, I was reduced
CO the abject necessity of explaining that there was no
evidence for the alleged state of things, which, however,
might nevertheless exist. Scientific fiction which has to
be interpreted in that way is as bad as a joke that has to
be explained In my 'Journey to the Sun' I was more
successful (it was the earlier essay, however); insomuch
that Professor Young, of Dartmouth College (Hanover,
N.H.), one of the most skilful solar observers living, assured
rae that, with scarcely a single exception, the various
phenomena described corresponded exactly with the ideas
he had formed respecting the probable condition of our
luminary.'
But I must confess that my own experience has not
been, on the whole, favourable to that kind of popular
science writing. It appears to me that the more
thoroughly the writer of such an essay has studied any
particular scientific subject, the less able must he be to
write a fictitious narrative respecting it. Just as those
ignorant of any subject are often the readiest to theorise
about it, because least hampered by exact knowledge, so
I think that the careful avoidance of any exact study of the

' I had at the same time the good fortune to satisfy in equal degree,
though quite unexpectedly, an English student of the sun, who at that
time bore me no Something in the article chanced to
great good-will.
suggest that it came from another, presumably a rival, hand ; while an
essay which appeared about the same time (the spring of 1872) was
commonly but erroneously attributed to me. Accordingly, a leading
article in Nature was devoted to the annihilation of the writer supposed

to be myself, and to the lavish and quite undeserved laudation of the


article I had written, which was selected as typifying all the good
qualities which an article of the kind should possess. Those acquainted
with the facts were not a little amused by the mistake.
206 MYTHS AND MAR VELS OF ASTRONOMY.
details of a scientific subject must greatly facilitate the
writing of a fictitious narrative respecting it But unfor-
tunately a narrative written under such conditions, however
interesting to the general reader, can scarcely forward the
propagation of scientific knowledge, one of the qualities
claimed for fables of the kind. As an instance in point, I
may cite Jules Verne'sVoyage to the Moon,' where (apart,
'

of course, from the inherent and intentional absurdity of the


scheme itself), the circumstances which are described are
calculated to give entirely erroneous ideas about the laws
of motion. Nothing could be more amusing, but at the
same time nothing more scientifically absurd, than the story
of the dead dog Satellite, which, flung out of the travelling
projectile, becomes a veritable satellite, moving always

beside the voyagers ; for, with whatever velocity the dog


had been expelled by them, with that same velocity would
he have retreated continually firom their projectile abode,
whose own attraction on the dog would have had no
appreciable effect in checking his departure. Again, the
scene when the projectile reaches the neutral point between
the earth and moon, so that there is no longer any gravity
to keep thetravellers on the floor of their travelling car, is

well conceived (though, in part, somewhat profane) ; but


in reality the state of things described as occurring there
would have prevailed throughout the journey. The travel-
lers would no more be drawn earthwards (as compared

with the projectile itself) than we travellers on the earth


are drawn sunwards with reference to the earth. The
earth's attracting force on the projectile and on the travel-

lers would be equal all through the journey, not solely


when the projectile reached the neutral point ; and being
equal on both, would not draw them together. It may be
argued that the attractions were equal before the projectile
set out on its journey, and therefore, if the reasoning just
THE LUNAR HOAX. ^t'}

given were correct, the travellers ought not to have had


any weight keeping them on the floor of the projectile before

it started, '
which is absurd.' But the pressure upon the
floor of the projectile at rest is caused by the floor being
kept from moving ; let itobey gravity, and there
be free to

will no longer be any pressure and throughout the journey


:

to the moon, the projectile, like the travellers it contains,


is obeying the action of gravity. Unfortunately, those who
are able to follow the correct reasoning in such matters are
not those to whom Jules Verne's account would suggest
wrong ideas about matters dynamical ; the young learner
who is misled by such narratives is neither able to reason
out the matter for himself, nor to understand the true
reasoning respecting it He is, therefore, apt to be set
quite at sea by stories of the kind, and especially by the
specious reasoning introduced to explain the events de-
scribed. In fine, it would seem that such narratives must
be valued for their intrinsic interest, just like other novels

or romances, not for the quality sometimes claimed for


them of combining instruction with amnsement.
268 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.

ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES.


For many years the late Professor De Morgan contributed
to the columns of the '
Athenaeum' a series of papers in
which he dealt with the strange treatises in which the earth
is flattened, the circle squared, the angle divided into three,

the cube doubled (the famous problem which the Delphic


oracle set astronomers), and the whole of modern astronomy
shown to be a delusion and a snare. He treated these
works in a quaint fashion : not unkindly, for his was a
kindly nature ; not even earnestly, though he was thoroughly
in earnest ;
yet in such sort as to rouse the indignation of
the unfortunate paradoxists. He was abused roundly for

what he said, but much more roundly when he decUned


further controversy. Paradoxists of the ignorant sort (for
it must be remembered that not all are ignorant) are,
indeed, well practised in abuse, and have long learned to
call mathematicians and astronomers cheats and charlatans.

They freely used their vocabulary for the benefit of De


Morgan, whom they denounced as a scurrilous scribbler, a
defamatory, dishonest, abusive, ungentlemanly, and libellous
trickster.

He bore this shower of abuse with exceeding patience


and good nature. He had not been wholly unprepared for
it, in fact ; and, as he had a purpose in dealing with the
paradoxists, he was satisfied to continue that quiet analysis
ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 269

of their work which so roused their indignation. He found


in them a curious subject of study; and he found an
equally curious subject of study in their disciples. The
simpler not to say more foolish paradoxists, whose won-
derful discoveries are merely amazing misapprehensions,
were even more interesting to De Morgan than the craftier

sort who make a living, or try to make a living, out of their


pretended theories. Indeed, these last he treated, as they

deserved, with a scathing satire quite different from his


humorous and not ungenial comments on the wonderful
theories of the honest paradoxists.
There is one special use to which the study of paradox-
literature
may be applied, which so far as I know has
not hitherto been much attended to. It may be questioned

whether half the strange notions into which paradoxists


fall must not be ascribed to the vagueness of too many of

our scientific treatises. A half-understood explanation, or


a carelessly worded account of some natural phenomenon,
leads the paradoxist, whose nature compounded of
is

conceit and simplicity, to originate a theory of his own on


the subject Once such a theory has been devised, it takes
complete possession of the paradoxist's mind. All the facts

of which he thenceforward hears, which bear in the least on


his favourite craze, appear to give evidence in its favour,

even though in reality they are most obviously opposed to


it He learns to look upon himself as an unappreciated
Newton, and to see the bitterest malevolence in those who
venture to question his preposterous notions. He is

fortunate if he do not suffer his theories to withdraw him


from his means of earning a livelihood, or if he do not
waste his substance in propounding and defending them.
One of the favourite subjects for paradox-forming is the

accepted theory of the solar system. Our books on astro-

nomy too often present this theory in such sort that it


270 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
seems only a successor of Ptolemy's ; and the impression
is conveyed that, like Ptolemy's, it may be one day super-

seded by some other theory. This is enough for the


quite
paradoxist. If a new theory is to replace the one now
accepted, why should not he be the new Copernicus ? He
startsupon the road without a tithe of the knowledge that
old Ptolemy possessed, unaware of the difficulties which

Ptolemy met and dealt with free, therefore, because of his
perfect ignorance, to form theories at which Ptolemy would
have smiled. He has probably heard of the

centrics and eccentrics scribbled o'er


Cycle and epicycle, orb in orb,

which disfigured the theories of the ancients ; but he is

had a
quite unconscious that every one of those scribblings
real meaning, each being intended to account for some

observed peculiarity of planetary motion, which must be


accounted for by any theory which is to claim acceptance.
In happy unconsciousness that there are any peculiari-
this

ties requiring explanation, knowing nothing of the strange

paths which the planets are seen to follow on the heavenly


vault,

Their wand'ring course now high, now low, then hid,


Progressive, retrograde, or standing still,

he placidly puts forward and presently very vehemently


urges a theory which accounts for none of these things.

It has often seemed to me that a large part of the mis-

chief for let it be remembered that the published errors


of the paradoxist are indicative of much unpublished
misapprehension arises from the undeserved contempt
with which our books of astronomy too often treat the
labours of Ptolemy, Tycho Brahe, and others who advo-
cated erroneous theories. If the simple truth were told,

that the theory of Ptolemy was a masterpiece of ingenuity


1

ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 27

and that it was worked out by his followers in a way which


merits the highest possible praise, while the theory of Tycho
Brahe was placed in reality on a sounder basis than that
of Copernicus, and accounted as well and as simply for
observed appearances, the student would begin to realise
the noble nature of the problem which those great astron-
omers dealt with. And again, if stress were laid upon the
fact that Tycho Brahe devoted years upon years of his life
to secure such observations of the planets as might settle

the questions at issue, the student would learn something


of the spirit in which the true lover of science proceeds.
It seems to me, also, that far too little is said about the
kind of work by which Kepler and Newton finally estab-

lished the accepted theories. There is a strange charm in

the history of those twenty years of Kepler's life during


which he was analysing the observations made by Tycho
Brahe. Surrounded with domestic trials and anxieties,

which might well have claimed his whole attention, tried


grievously ill-health and bodily anguish, he laboured all
by
those years upon erroneous theories. The very worst of
these had infinitely more evidence in its favour than the
best which the paradoxists have brought forth. There was
not one of those theories which nine out of ten of his
scientific would not have accepted un-
contemporaries
grudgingly. Yet he wrought these theories one after
another to their own disproof Nineteen of them he tried

and rejected the twentieth was the true theory of the
solar system. Perhaps nothing in the whole history of
astronomy affords a nobler lesson to the student of science
^unless, indeed, it be the calm philosophy with which
Newton for eighteen years suffered the theory of the
universe to remain in abeyance, because faulty measure-
ments of the earth prevented his calculations from agreeing
with observed facts. But, as Professor Tyndall has well
272 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
remarked
to heart
and
Newton's
'
the paradoxist should lay the lesson well
action in this matter was the normal
action of the scientific mind. If it were otherwise if

scientific men were not accustomed to demand verification,

if they were satisfied with the imperfect while the perfect is

attainable their science, instead of being, as it is, a fortress

of adamant, would be a house of clay, ill fitted to bear the


buffetings of the theologic storms to which it has been firora

time to time, and is at present, exposed.'

The fame of Newton has proved to many paradoxists


an irresistible attraction ; it has been to these unfortunates
as the candle to the fluttering moth. Circle-squaring, as
we shall presently see, has had its attractions, nor have
earth-fixing and earth-flattening been neglected ; but at-

tacking the law of gravitation has been the favourite work


of paradoxists. Newton has been praised as surpassing
the whole human race in genius ; mathematicians and
astronomers have agreed to laud him as unequalled ; why
should not Paradoxus displace him and be praised in like

manner? It would be unfair, perhaps, to say that the


paradoxist consciously argues thus. He doubtless in most
instances convinces himself that he has really detected some
flaw in the theory of gravitation. Yet it is impossible not
to recognise, as the real motive of every paradox-monger,
him which has been said of
the desire to have that said of
Newton Genus humanum ingenio superavii.'
:
'

I remember a curious instance of this which occurred

soon after the appearance of the comet of 1858. It chanced


that, while that object was under discussion, reference was
made to the action of a repulsive force exerted by the sun
upon the matter of the comet's tail. On this, some one
addressed a long letter to a Glasgow newspaper, announcing
that he had long ago proved that the sun's attraction alone
is account for the planetary motions.
insufficient to His
ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 273

reasoning was amazingly simple. If the sun's attraction is

powerful enough to keep the outer planets in their course,


it must be too powerful for Venus and Mercury close bj
the sun ; if it only just suffices to keep these in their course,
it cannot possibly be powerful enough to restrain the outer
planets. The had been
writer of this letter said that he
very badly treated by scientific bodies. announced He had
his discovery to the Royal Astronomical Society, the Royal

Society, the Imperial Academy at Paris, and other scientific


bodies ; but they had one and all refused to listen to him.
He had forsaken or neglected his trade for several years in
order to give attention to the new and (as he thought) the
true theory of the universe. He complained in a specially
bittermanner of the unfavourable comments which men
of science had made upon his views in private letters ad-
dressed to him in reply to his communications.
There is something melancholy even in what is most
ridiculous in cases of this sort. The simplicity which sup-
poses that considerations so obvious as those adduced could
escape the scrutiny, not of Newton only, but of all who
have followed in the same track during two centuries, is

certainly stupendous ; nor can one fail to smile at seeing

a difficulty, such as might naturally suggest itself to a


beginner, and such as half-a-dozen words from an expert
would clear up, regarded gravely as a discovery calculated
to make its author famous for all time. Yet, when one
considers the probable consequences of the blunder to the
unhappy enthusiast, and perchance to his family, it is diffi-

cult not to feel a sense of pity, quite apart from that pity
allied to contempt which is excited by his mistake. A few
words added to the account of Newton's theory, which the
paradoxist had probably read in some astronomical treatise,

would have prevented all this mischief Indeed, this diffi-

culty, which, as we have said, is a natural one, should be


T
274 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
dealt with and removed in any account of the planetary
system intended for beginners. The simple statement that
the outer planets move more slowly than the inner, and so
require a smaller force to keep them in their course, would
have sufficed, not, perhaps, altogether to remove the diffi-

culty, but to show the beginner where the explanation was


to be looked for.

It was in connection with this subject of gravitation


that one of the most well-meaning of the paradoxists the
late Mr. James Reddie
came under Professor De Morgan's
criticism. Mr. Reddie was something more than well-

meaning. He was earnestly desirous of advancing the


interests of science, as well as of defending religion firom

what he mistakenly supposed to be the dangerous teachings


of the Newtonians. He founded for these purposes the
Victoria Institute, of which society he was the secretary
from the time of its institution until his decease, some
years since ; and, probably, many who declined to join
that society because of the Anti-Newtonian proclivities of

its secretary, were unaware that to that secretary the insti-

tute owed its existence.


It so chanced that I had myself a good deal of cor-
respondence with Mr. Reddie (who was, however, personally
unknown to me). This correspondence served to throw
quite a new light on the mental habitudes and ways of think-
ing of the honest paradoxist I believe that Professor De

Morgan hardly gave Mr. Reddie credit for the perfect


honesty which he really possessed. It may have been that

a clear reasoner like De Morgan could hardly (despite his


wide experience) appreciate the confusion of mind which is
the normal characteristic of the paradoxist.
But certainly
the very candid way
which Mr. Reddie admitted, in
in

the correspondence above named, that he had not known


some facts and had misunderstood others, afforded to
ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXSS. 275

my mind the most satisfactory proofs of his straightfor-


wardness.
It may be instructive to consider a few of those para-

doxes of Mr. Reddie's which Professor De Morgan found


chief occasion to pulverise.
In a letter to the Astronomer-Royal Mr. Reddie an-
nounced that he was about to write a paper intended to '

be hereafter published, elaborating more minutely and dis-


cussing more rigidly than before the glaring fallacies, dating
from the time of Newton, relating to the motion of the
moon.' He proceeded to indicate the nature of the issues
'

he intended to raise.' He had discovered that the moon


does not, as a matter of fact, go round the earth at the rate
of 2288 miles an hour, as astronomers say, but follows an
undulatory path round the sun at a rate varying between
65,000 and 70,000 miles an hour ; because, while the moon
seems to go round the earth, the latter is travelling on-
wards at the rate of 67,500 miles an hour round the sun.
Of course he was quite right in his facts, and quite wrong
in his inferences ; as the Astronomer-Royal pointed out in
a brief letter, closing with the remark that,
as a very
closely occupied man,' Mr. Airy could '
not enter further
into the matter.' But further Mr. Reddie persisted in
going, though he received no more letters from Greenwich.

His reply to Sir G. Airy contained, in fact, matter enough


for a small pamphlet.
Now here was certainly an amazing fact. A well-known
astronomical relation, which astronomers have over and
over again described and explained, is treated as though
it were something which had throughout all ages escaped
attention. It is not here the failure to comprehend the
rationale of a simple explanation which is startling, but the
notion that an obvious fact had been wholly overlooked.
Of like nature was the mistake which brought Mr
;

276 MYTHS AND MARVELS Of ASTRONOMY.


Reddie more especially under Professor De Morgan's notice.

It is known that the sun, carrying with him his family of


planets, is speeding swiftly through space his velocity
being estimated as probably not falling short of 20,000
miles per hour. It follows, of course, that the real paths of
the planets in space are not closed curves, but spirals of
different orders. How, then, can the theory of Copernicus
be right, according to which the planets circle in closed
orbits round the sun ? Here was Mr. Reddie's difficulty
and Uke the other, it appeared to his mind as a great dis-
covery. He was no whit concerned by the thought that
astronomers ought surely to have noticed the difficulty be-
fore. It did not seem in the least wonderful that he, lightly
reading a book or two of popular astronomy, should dis-

cover that which Laplace, the Herschels, Leverrier, Airy,


Adams, and a host of others, who have given their whole
lives to astronomy, had failed to notice. Accordingly, Mr.
Reddie forwarded to the British Association (in session at
Newcastle) a paper controverting the theory of the sun's
motion. The paper was declined with thanks by that
bigoted body '
as opposed to Newtonian astronomy.' '
That
paper I published,' says Mr. Reddie, 'in September 1863,
with an appendix, in both thoroughly exhibiting the illogical
reasoning and absurdities involved in the theory ; and with
what result? The members of Section A of the British
Association, and Fellows of the Royal Society and of the
Royal Astronomical Society, to whom I sent copies of my
paper, were, without exception, dumb.' Professor De
Morgan, however, having occasion to examine Mr. Reddie's
publications some time after, was in no sort dumb, but in
very plain and definite terms exhibited their absurdity.
After all, however, the real absurdity consisted, not in the
statements which Mr. Reddie made, nor even in the con-
clusions which he drew from them, but in the astounding
ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 277

simplicity which could suppose that astronomers were un-


aware of the facts which their own labours had revealed.
In my correspondence with Mr. Reddie I recognised
the real source of the amazing self-complacency displayed
by the true paradoxist. The very insufficiency of the
knowledge which a paradoxist possesses of his subject,
affords the measure of his estimate of the care with which

other men have studied that subject. Because the para-


doxist is ready to pronounce an opinion about matters he
has not studied, it does not seem strange to him that New-
ton and his followers should be equally ready to discuss
subjects they had not inquired into.

Another very remarkable instance was afforded by Mr.


Reddie's treatment of the subject of comets. And here,
by the way, I shall quote a remark made by Sir John
Herschel soon after the appearance of the comet of 1861.
'
I have received letters,' he said, '
about the comets of the
last few years, enough to make one's hair stand on end at
the absurdity of the theories they propose, and at the
ignorance of the commonest laws of optics, of motion, of

heat, and of general physics, they betray in their writers.'


In the present instance, the correspondence showed that
the paradoxist supposed the parabolic paths of some comets
to be regarded by astronomers as analogous to the para-
bolic paths traversed by projectiles. He expressed con-
siderable astonishment when I informed him that, in the
first place, projectiles do not travel on truly parabolic paths ;

and secondly, that in all respects their motion differs es-


sentially from that which astronomers ascribe to comets.
These last move more and more quickly until they reach
what is called the vertex of the parabola (the point of such
a path which lies nearest to the sun) : projectiles, on the
contrary, move more and more slowly as they approach the
corresponding point of their path ; and further, the comet
278 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
first approaches and then recedes from the centre of attrac-
tionthe projectile first recedes from and then approaches
the attracting centre.
The earth-flatteners form a considerable section of the
paradoxical family. They experienced a practical rebuff,
a few years since, which should to some degree have shaken
their faith in the present chief of their order. To do this

chief justice, he is probably far less confident about the


than any of his disciples.
flatness of the earth Undei the
assumed name of Parallax he visited most of the chief
towns of England, propounding what he calls his system of
zetetic astronomy. Why he should call himself Parallax it

would be hard to say ; unless it be that the verb from


which the word is derived signifies primarily to shift about
or dodge, and secondarily to alter a httle, especially for the
worse. His employment of the word zetetic is less doubtful,
as he claims for his system that it alone is founded on the
true seeking out of Nature's secrets.
The experimental basis of the theory of Parallax is

mainly this : Having betaken himself to a part of the Bed-


ford Canal, where there is an uninterrupted water-line of
about six miles, he tested the water surface for signs of
curvature, and (as he said) found none.
It chanced, unfortunately, that a disciple Mr. John
Hampden, of Swindon accepted the narrative of this ob-
servation in an unquestioning spirit ; and was so confident
that the Bedford Canal has a truly plane surface, that he
wagered five hundred pounds on his opinion, challenging
the believers in the earth's rotundity to repeat the experi-
ment. The challenge was accepted by Mr. Wallace, the
eminent naturalist; and the result may be anticipated.
Three boats were to be moored in a line, three miles or so
between each. Each carried a mast of given length. If,
when the summits of the first and last masts were seen in
ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 279

a line through a telescope, the summit of the middle mast


was not found to be above the line, then Mr. Hampden
was to receive hundred pounds from Mr. Wallace.
five If,

on the contrary, the top of the middle mast was found, as


the accepted theory said it should be, to be several feet
above the line joining the tops of the two outer masts,
then Mr. Hampden was to lose the five hundred pounds he
had so rashly ventured. Everything was conducted in
accordance with the arrangements agreed upon. The
editor of a well-known sporting paper acted as stakeholder,
and unprejudiced umpires were to decide as to what actually
was seen through the telescope. It need scarcely be said

that the accepted theory held its own, and that Mr. Hamp-

den lost his money. He scarcely bore the loss with so


good a grace as was to have been expected from a philoso-
pher merely desirous of ascertaining the truth. His wrath
was not expended on Parallax, whom he might have sus-

pected of having led him astray ; nor does he seem to have


been angry with himself, as would have seemed natural.
All his anger was reserved for those who still continued to
believe in the earth's rotundity. Whether he believed that
the Bedford water had risen under the middle boat to
oblige Mr. Wallace, or how it came to pass that his own
chosen experiment had failed him, does not appear.
The subsequent history of this matter has been unplea-
sant It illustrates, unfortunately but too well, the mis-
chief which may ensue from the tricks of those who make
a trade of paradox tricks which would be scarce possible,

however, if text -books of science were more carefully


written, and by those only who are really acquainted with
the subject of which they treat.
The book which originally led to Mr. Hampden's mis-
fortunes, and has misled not a few, ought to have deceived
none. I have already mentioned the statement on which
28o MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASl'RUNOMY.
Parallax (whose true name is Rowbotham) rested his theory.

Of course, if that statement had been true if he had, with


his eye a few inches from the surface of the water of the
Bedford Canal, seen an object close to the surface six miles
from him
there manifestly would have been something
wrong in the accepted theory about the earth's rotundity.

So, also, if a writer were to announce a new theory of


gravity, stating as the basis of his theory that a heavy mis-
sile which he had thrown into the air had gone upwards on
a serpentine course to the moon, any one who accepted the
statement would be logically bound to admit at least that
the fact described was inconsistent with the accepted theory.
But no one would accept such a statement ; and no one
should have accepted Mr. Rowbotham's statement.
His statement was believed, however, and perhaps is
still believed by many. Twenty years ago De Morgan
wrote that '
the founder of the zetetic astronomy gained
great praise from provincial newspapers for his ingenuity in
proving that the earth is a flat, surrounded by ice,' with the
north polar ice in the middle. '
Some of the journals rather

incline to this view ; but the " Leicester Advertiser " thinks
that the statement "would seem to invalidate some of the
most important conclusions of modern astronomy;" while
the " Northfolk Herald " is clear that " there must be great
error on one side or the other." . . . The fact is worth
noting that from 184 9- 1857 arguments on the roundness
or flatness of the earth did itinerate. I have no doubt they
did much
good, for very few persons have any distinct idea
oi the evidence for the rotundity of the earth. The " Black-
bum Standard "and "Preston Guardian " (December 12
and 1849) unite in stating that the lecturer ran away
16,
from his second lecture at Burnley, having been rather too
hard pressed, at the end of his first lecture, to explain why
the large hull of a ship disappeared before the masts. The
;;

ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 281

persons present and waiting for the second lecture assuaged


their disappointment by concluding that the lecturer had
slipped off the ice edge of his flat disc, and that he would

not be seen again till he peeped up on the opposite side.'


. .
'
The zetetic system,' proceeds De Morgan, '
still lives
in lectures and books ; as no
it ought to do, for there is

way of teaching a truth comparable to opposition. The


last I heard of it was in lectures at Plymouth, in October

1864. Since this time a prospectus has been issued of a


work entitled "The Earth not a Globe;" but whether it
has been published I do not know.'
The book was published soon after the above was writ-
ten, and De Morgan gives the following quaint account of

it: 'August 28, 1865. The zetetic astronomy has come


into my hands. When in 1851 I went to see the Great
Exhibition I heard an organ played by a performer who
seemed very desirous of exhibiting one particular stop.
"What do you think of that stop?" I was asked. "That
depends on the name of it," said I. " Oh what can the !

name of it have to do with the sound ? '


that which we call

a rose,' etc." " The name has everything to do with it

if it be a flute stop I think it very harsh ; but if it be a rail-

way-whistle stop, I think it very sweet." So as to this book:


if it be childish, it is clever ; if it be mannish, it is unusually
foolish. The flat earth floating tremulously on the sea
the sun moving always over the flat, giving day when near
enough, and night when too far off ; the self-luminous moon,
with a semi-transparent invisible moon created to give her
an eclipse now and then ; the new law of perspective, by
which the vanishing of the hull before the masts, usually
thought to prove the earth globular, really proves it flat ;
all these and other things are well fitted to form exercises
for a person who is learning the elements of astronomy.
The manner in which the sun dips into the sea, especially
282 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
in tropical climates, upsets the whole. Mungo Park, 1

think, gives an African hypothesis which explains phe-


nomena better than this. The sun dips into the Western
ocean, and the people there cut him in pieces, fty him in

a pan, and then join him together again ; take him round
the under way, and set him up in the East I hope this

book will be read, and that many will be puzzled by it ; for


there are many whose notions of astronomy deserve no
better fate. There is no subject on which there is so little
accurate on that of the motions of the
conception as
heavenly bodies.^ The
author, though confident in the
extreme, neither impeaches the honesty of those whose
opinion he assails, nor allots them any future inconvenience:
in these points he is worthy to live on a globe and to rotate

in twenty-four hours.'

I chanced to reside near Plymouth when Mr. Rowbo-


tham lectured there in October 1864. It will readily be
understood that, in a town where there are so many naval
men, his lectures were not altogether so successful as they
have sometimes been in small inland towns. Numbers of
naval officers, however, who were thoroughly well assured
of the fact that the earth is a globe, were not able to de-
molish the crafty arguments of Parallax publicly, during
the discussions which he challenged at the close of each
^ The Astronomer-Royal once told me that he had found that few
persons have a clear conception of the fact that the stars rise and set.

Still fewer know how move, which stars rise and set, which
the stars
are always above the horizon, which move on large circles, which on
small ones ; though a few hours' observation on half-a-dozen nights in
the year (such observations being continuous, but made only at hour!,'

intervals) would show clearly how the stare move. It is odd to find
even some who write about astronomy making mistakes on matters so
elementary. For instance, in a primer of astronomy recently published,
it is stated that the stars which pass overhead in London rise and set

on a slant the real fact being that those stars never rise or set at all,

never coming within some two dozen moon-breadths of the horizon.


ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 283

lecture. He was too skilled in that sort of evasion which


his assumed name (as interpreted by Liddell and Scott)
suggests, to be readily cornered. When an argument was
used which he could not easily meet, or seem to meet, he
would say simply :
'
you have now had your fair
Well, sir,

share of the discussion ; some one


else have his turn.'
let

It was stated in the newspapers that one of his audience was

so wrathful with the lecturer on account of these evasions,


that he endeavoured to strike Parallax with a knobbed stick
at the close of the second lecture ; but probably there was

no real foundation for the story.

Mr. Rowbotham did a very bold thing, however, at


Plymouth. He undertook to prove, by observations made
with a telescope upon the Eddystone Lighthouse from the
Hoe and from the beach, that the surface of the water is
flat. From the beach usually only the lantern can be seen.
From the Hoe the whole of the lighthouse is visible, under
favourable conditions. Duly on the morning appointed,
Mr. Rowbotham appeared. From the Hoe a telescope was
directed towards the lighthouse, which was well seen, the
morning being calm and still, and tolerably clear. On de-
scending to the beach it was found that, instead of the
whole lantern being visible as usual, only half could be seen
a circumstance doubtless due to the fact that the air's

refractive power, which usually diminishes the dip due to


the earth's curvature by about one-sixth part, was less
efficient thatmorning than usual. The effect of the pecu-
liarity was manifestly unfavourable to Mr. Rowbotham's

theory. The curvature of the earth produced a greater


difference than usual between the appearance of a distant
object as seen from a certain high station and from a certain
low station (though still the difference fell short of that
which would be shown if there were no air). But Parallax
claimed the peculiarity observable that morning as an argu-
284 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
ment in favour of his flat earth. It is manifest, he said, that

there is something wrong about the accepted theory ; for it

tells us that so much less of the lighthouse should be seen


from the beach than from the Hoe, whereas less still was
seen. And many of the Plymouth folk went away from the
Hoe that morning, and from the second lecture, in which
Parallax triumphantly quoted the results of the observation,
with the feeling which had been expressed seven years
before in the '
Leicester Advertiser,' that '
some of the most
important conclusions of modem astronomy had been
seriously invalidated.' If our books of astronomy, in re-

terring to the effects of the earth's curvature, had only been


careful to point out how surveyors and sailors and those who
build lighthouses take into account the modifying effects of
atmospheric refraction, and how these
effects have long been

known and pressure of the air,


to vary with the temperature
this mischief would have been avoided. It would not be

fair to say of the persons misled on that occasion by Parallax

that they deserved no better ; since the fault is not theirs


as readers, but that of careless or ill-informed writers.
Another experiment conducted by Parallax the same
morning was creditable to his ingenuity. Nothing better,
perhaps, was ever devised to deceive people, apparently by
ocular evidence, into the belief that the earth is flat nor is

there any clearer evidence of the largeness of the earth's


globe compared with our ordinary measures. On the Hoe,
some ninety or a hundred feet above the sea-level, he had
a mirror suspended in a vertical position facing the sea, and
invited the bystanders to look in that mirror at the sea-
horizon. To all appearance the line of the horizon corre-
sponded exactly with the level of the eye-pupils of the
observer. Now, of course, when we look into a mirror
whose surface exactly vertical, the line of sight to the
is

eye-pupils of our image in the mirror is exactly horizontal


;
ON SOME ASTRONOMICAL PARADOXES. 285

whereas the line of sight from the eyes to the image of the
sea-horizon is depressed exactly as much as the line from
the eyes to the real sea-horizon. Here, then, seemed to be
proof positive that there is no depression of the sea-horizon;
for the horizontal line to the image of the eye-pupil seemed
to coincide exactly with the line to the image of the sea-
horizon. It is not necessary to suppose here that the mirror
was wrongly adjusted, though the slightest error of adjust-
ment would affect the result either favourably or unfavour-

ably for Parallax's flat-earth theory. It is a matter of fact

that, if the mirror were perfectly vertical, only very acute


vision could detect the depression of the image of the sea-

horizon below the image of the eye-pupiL The depression


can easily be calculated for any given circumstances. Paral-
lax encouraged observers to note very closely the position of
the eye-pupil in the image, so that most of them approached
the image within about ten inches, or the glass within about
five. Now, in such a case, for a height of one hundred
feet above the sea-level the image of the sea-horizon would
be depressed below the image of the eye-pupil by less than
three hundredths of an inch an amount which could not
be by one eye in a hundred. The average
detected
diameter of the pupil itself is one-fifth of an inch, or about
seven times as great as the depression of the sea-horizon
in the case supposed.It would require very close obser-

vation and a good eye to determine whether a horizontal


line seen on either side of the head were on the level of the

centres of the eye-pupils, or lower by about one-seventh of


the breadth of either pupil.
The experiment is a pretty one, however, and well
worth trying by any one who lives near to the sea-shore

and sea-cliffs. But there is a much more effective experi-

ment which can be much more it is open


easily tried only
to the disadvantage that it at once demolishes the argument

286 MYTHS AND MARVELS OF ASTRONOMY.
of our friend Parallax. It occurred to me while I wat
writing the